Roster Review: Running Backs
By Gary Fitzgerald
After releasing Stephen Davis prior to the 2003 season, the Redskins were without a true franchise back until they completed the blockbuster Champ Bailey-for-Clinton Portis trade last year. The deal was a good one for the Redskins: Portis accumulated 1,315 rushing yards last season and also caught a career-high 40 passes for 235 yards.
Portis was the engine of the Redskins' offense in 2004. The yards were tough at times, but he still managed to put together four games of 140 yards or more. The 5-11, 210-pound tailback also put a stop to questions about his durability in the hard-nosed NFC East.
Said Joe Gibbs: "He's plenty strong enough. He can run inside, outside--and he's a good pass receiver. He's a 1,300-yard back in a year that our offense struggled. I'm excited about that. I think he'd be a reason to be excited about next season, offensively."
Portis's value is best assessed in the won-lost column: when he rushed for more than 100 yards, the Redskins were 5-0 last season.
"I had some real tough yards," Portis said. "The 1,300 yards was an accomplishment that most people would be proud of, but you always want to do better. We wanted to get to the playoffs, and we didn't get that done. I actually do feel good about the direction this team is going."
Portis was backed up Ladell Betts last season. Betts rushed for 371 yards on 90 carries, a team-high 4.1 yards-per-carry. He started the season finale against the Minnesota Vikings, due to an injury to Portis, and logged 118 yards on 26 carries and one touchdown.
Betts, 5-10 and 222 pounds, opened eyes from all corners last year.
"I came in and all I heard from everybody was that he was a third-down back," Gibbs said. "As a running back, he really slams it in there. He has already shown me a completely different side of himself."
Added Portis: "I'd say that he needs to be on the field more, but that would mean I'd be standing on the sidelines. When there's a guy giving effort like that, you have to stay on your Ps and Qs."
Rock Cartwright played in 13 games last season, mostly as a special teams player. He logged 15 tackles on kickoff and punt coverage units. His experience as a starter in 2003--when he rushed for 411 yards on 107 carries--offers Gibbs and offensive coaches valuable depth.
Chad Morton served primarily as the Redskins' kick returner last year before his season ended in Week 8 with a knee injury. He did not have any carries in 2004, but he did in 2003, he rushed for 216 yards on 48 carries, a 4.5 yards-per-carry average.
Dahrran Diedrick, a practice squad player last year with good size, will continue to hone his skills in NFL Europe this spring. He has been assigned to the Rhein Fire. John Simon, who re-signed with the Redskins on Feb. 21, spent the 2004 season on injured reserve.
Positional Analysis: The Redskins appear set at running back, with Portis and Betts both garnering acclaim for their performance last season. Portis is likely to be the Redskins' franchise back for the foreseeable future. The running game did struggle at times in the red zone, especially in goal-line situations, leading to some speculation that the team may pursue a bigger running back in the mold of a Jerome Bettis. It seems unlikely, though, that there will be significant changes to the team's corps of running backs.