The Running Backs
2008 Summary: The running game was a perfect example of the 2008 Redskin's season. It started slow in the first few weeks and then it boomed. In weeks 4-8 Clinton Portis alone was averaging 139 yds./game. Portis appeared to be on pace for a 2,000 yard season and much like Jason Campbell, was getting MVP consideration by some of the media. Then, Portis suffered some injuries during the Pittsburgh game and was hindered throughout the remainder of the season (only to have only 1 more 100+ yard game). Portis did make his 2nd career Pro Bowl.
Ladell Betts also struggled with injuries and was ineffective in the few carries he was given. The Redskins brought in former MVP Shaun Alexander to carry the load for the injured Portis and Betts, but he was also unable to do much. Alexander was cut only after playing a few games. Rock Cartwright was used very sparingly as a RB and excelled as a kick returner and special teams specialist. Mike Sellers had a great season and made his first ever Pro Bowl but had a key fumble in a game and showed that he's more of a threat as a blocker and pass catcher than pure runner.
(Stats from NFL.com)
Current Roster: Anthony Alridge, Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright, Dominique Dorsey, Jonathan Evans, Marcus Mason, Clinton Portis, Mike Sellers, Eddie Williams*
* 2009 draftee ( 7th round; 221 overall)
Biggest Position Battle:
Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright vs. The Field
(For #2 and #3 RB positions)If this had been last season, I would have said it was practically impossible for anybody to beat out either Betts or Cartwright for a spot. But that was last year. Betts struggled last year. Rock was hardly used as a RB despite Portis and Betts having injuries and Alexander being ineffective. So it's easy to say that both players could be on the hot seat come training camp. In the offseason, the Redskins brought in Anthony Alridge and Dominique Dorsey. Both are speedier 3rd down/punt return/kick return type players in the mold of a Darren Sproles and will push both Rock Cartwright and Antwaan Randle-El for a chance at returning the ball on teams. Dorsey was named the Most Outstanding Special Teams Player for the CFL in 2007 and 2008. By adding a speedster, the Redskins hope that it will provide a little variation to the more power oriented styles of Betts and a older Portis.
Fan favorite and leading rusher of the 2008 pre-season Marcus Mason was brought back after serving brief stints with the Ravens and Jets. Last year Mason ran all over teams in the pre-season but was cut mostly because he struggled in his special teams performance (also it was very tough to crack the roster when the team carries just three RBs). It will be interesting to see if Mason has improved upon last year's performance. If he has, it may be up to the Redskins to determine who will have a better impact in 2009: Marcus Mason or Ladell Betts.
The Skins will probably only keep 4-5 running backs (3-4 Halfbacks and 1 Fullback) so it seems pretty likely that only 2-3 of the five players fight for a job will make the team. I'm not fully convinced both incumbent players will be back, although Rock Cartwright has been the heart of the Special Teams corp. for years and Betts has been getting positive reviews during OTAs and mini-camp.
Player to Watch: Marcus Mason. I am curious to see what Dorsey and Alridge can bring to the team. I also would like to see how Betts is doing. But, I chose Mason because I really thought I saw some talent in him last year and I think he has the potential to help reduce Portis' work load. If he can put up numbers like he did last year and play better on special teams, I have to think the Redskins have to find a roster spot for Mason this year. Yes, I know it was just pre-season and if Mason was such a phenom. that he would have stuck on the Ravens or Jets but what I did see impressed the hell out of me and I think he has a great chance to be at least a solid backup in the NFL........or better.
Projected Starters: Clinton Portis (HB), Mike Sellers (FB). It's really no surprise. Evans and draftee Eddie Williams will have a tough time beating out Sellers (who I have dubbed "Big Play Mike" after all the TDs he caught in '05) for the starting job or a roster spot. Portis has shown year after year that he has what it takes to be an elite running back in the NFL. The only thing I see is that the Redskins need to lessen his work load a bit. If anything, Portis has become more dedicated in his training regimen and has become a smarter running back relying on his wisdom and skill to get yards than just speed (much like a great pitcher relies less on his power but more on finesse as he gets older). Portis may not be as elusive as he was in past years but he always finds ways to make plays whether it be running or blocking. CP has said it himself "Portis Pockets Straight" and that pretty much sums it up. Expect another big season from both Portis and Sellers if the Redskins are to win.