Commentary

Alexander returns with no expectations, just desire

After a long search for a job, Shaun Alexander returns to the NFL comfortable with his position as a backup, writes Jeffri Chadiha.

Originally Published: October 17, 2008
By Jeffri Chadiha | ESPN.com

Shaun AlexanderOtto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesShaun Alexander missed nine games over his last two seasons with the Seahawks because of foot and wrist injuries.
ASHBURN, Va. -- Washington Redskins running back Shaun Alexander often used a popular saying while mentoring kids during his eight-year career in Seattle: Approach every new situation with desires, but don't ever come with expectations. The point, as far as Alexander is concerned, is that nobody is ever promised anything. He says it's critical to have all the dreams you can imagine. Just don't think you deserve more than that.

That's not just helpful advice, by the way. It's a perfect way to sum up how Alexander is approaching the final years of his NFL tenure. For as much as people may wonder how much he has left at age 31 -- after running for 9,429 yards and scoring 112 touchdowns in Seattle -- the thing that Alexander doesn't lack these days is perspective. This three-time Pro Bowler knows exactly where he's at in his career and he's grateful to still have an employer in this league.

That was the primary sentiment that kept coming up during a brief interview after Thursday's practice. The Seahawks may have released Alexander in April, but he hasn't spent the last few months wondering if he'd ever be wanted by another franchise.

"I knew I wanted to play again," said Alexander, who missed nine games over the last two seasons with foot and wrist injuries. "But it really was a matter of finding the right team and the right fit. I had a good time this offseason when I was training and spending time with my family and volunteering at my church. But I also had time to re-energize myself about playing football again."

For a man who was still looking for a job six weeks into the season, Alexander actually fell into a fairly decent gig. He already has three close friends on the Redskins, including former Seahawks cornerback Shawn Springs and former Alabama teammates Cornelius Griffin and Chris Samuels. Alexander also is joining a Washington team that made the playoffs last season and currently is off to a surprising 4-2 start. The biggest advantage for him, however, is familiarity.

Because coach Jim Zorn and running backs coach Stump Mitchell both worked with Alexander in Seattle, Alexander is essentially playing in the same offense the Seahawks used. It's still uncertain how big Alexander's role will be -- Zorn plans on using Rock Cartwright as the primary backup to starter Clinton Portis now that Ladell Betts is sidelined with a knee injury -- but that experience makes him a valuable option in a pinch. Zorn said any running back can figure out how to run the ball when changing teams. It's the players who have to get acclimated to a new passing system that face distinct challenges, especially when it comes to picking up the blitz.

Zorn also is quick to point out that Alexander utilized his downtime wisely. "If there had been a bigger need for running backs around the league, he would've been gone by now," Zorn said. "That's why we feel fortunate to have him. But when you look at Shaun's career, you also have to appreciate that he could've sat around said, 'Hey, I'm Shaun Alexander.' But he used that time to reinvigorate himself. He got his body into great shape. He came in here ready to prove what he could do."

Alexander said that was the main goal of his offseason training. Because he didn't undergo surgery on his injured left wrist until February, he was left with a recuperative timetable that really didn't help his cause. By April, his doctors had deemed him ready to start rehabilitation. But the Seahawks' front office had made a decision as well: It was time to find a replacement for their all-time leading rusher. They had seen Alexander run for only 1,612 yards in the two years since his MVP season in 2005 (1,880 yards, a then-NFL record 28 touchdowns) and that was enough evidence for the franchise to move on.

To his credit, Alexander doesn't hold anything against the Seahawks for that decision. He understands the business aspect of the NFL, and he gave the Seahawks all he could, outside of helping them win a Super Bowl.

"My whole thing was that I had my goals while I was there and I accomplished most of them," Alexander said. "But I also never expected them to give me anything."

Alexander has brought that same attitude to the Redskins. He accepts that there are no guarantees of job security once Betts returns, and Zorn can't even say how many touches Alexander will receive. All Alexander knows is that he has to be ready when the Redskins need him. If that doesn't happen as frequently as he'd like -- or even at all -- he's cool with that, too.

What Alexander clearly understands is that he's at that point in his career where humility is a necessary trait. Sure, other teams had called throughout the offseason to check on his availability, but the truth is that he was going to be a backup somewhere. That's why Alexander has been more than willing to publicly express his desire to help Portis and others.

"I've had the big games and the big years," Alexander said. "Now I just want to help this team win a Super Bowl."

That obviously is as stock a remark as you'll get from an aging NFL veteran. But there was plenty of sincerity in the way Alexander uttered it. He knows that his life was pretty good when he was hanging with his family and working at his church over the past few months. But he also knows something else: It's much better now that he's back in the league.

Senior writer Jeffri Chadiha covers the NFL for ESPN.com.