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Position Paper: Running Back

Jan 5, 2009, 12:30 PM EDT

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The first of an occasional series about what the Redskins might do and what they should do to address personnel issues.

The Redskins were #8 in the NFL in rushing yardage in 2008. Clearly that was the strength of the offense as the passing game ranked #23. And the strength of the running game was Clinton Portis, who carried 342 times for 1,487 yards.

Portis didn’t get much help. Ladell Betts carried 61 times for 206 yards. And that is an issue that the Redskins need to address this offseason.

The two NFC playoff teams who had this past weekend off, the Giants and the Panthers, had two running backs share the load. In Carolina, DeAngelo Williams rushed 273 times for 1,515 yards and rookie Jonathan Stewart got 184 carries for 836. In New York, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward both gained over 1,000 yards with 219 and 182 carries respectively.

Even the NFL’s leading rusher, Adrian “All Day” Peterson, got more help than did Portis. Chester Taylor kicked in 101 carries as his backup.

I can find other examples but simple logic tells you that the two-headed approach is the way to go. The fact that Portis clearly wore down as the season wore on makes the proposition that the Redskins need to reduce his workload a no-brainer.

Betts was supposed to provide the relief for Portis but despite the fact that Portis was slowing down and was a game time decision on several occasions due to a variety of ailments, Betts got fewer than four carries per game. Betts did miss three games with an injury of his own, but that’s still a pretty light workload.

The Redskins need to move about 50 carries away from Portis and to someone else. If that someone else is Betts, fine. If for whatever reason Jim Zorn doesn’t trust Betts to get it done, they either need to expend a late draft pick on a running back or find an inexpensive veteran to fill the role.

Those of you who are thinking that the Redskins should think about moving Portis before his performance falls off the edge of the earth need to think again. Even if it was a good idea viewed in isolation—and it’s not—the cap hit that the Redskins would take for releasing or trading him would be monstrous, as in eight figures. It’s not even an option.

Rock Cartwright is the third running back and he contributes virtually nothing there. He carried five times last year and 12 the past three seasons combined. He is, however, invaluable on special teams. Rock will be here in ’09 but he really doesn’t have a spot on the running back depth chart. Perhaps they could find a different roster designation for him and carry another running back who has the potential to get some carries. That was the thought process with Marcus Mason last August but the Redskins decided to release him and keep 10 defensive linemen.

Portis needs to continue to be the bell cow. But something south of 300 carries in 2009 would help him be more productive in December. The team needs to identify a back who can share the load, whether it’s Betts or someone not currently on the roster and be determined to give him enough work to make a difference.

  1. Ben Folsom - Jan 5, 2009 at 3:21 PM

    “That was the thought process with Marcus Mason last August…”

    That’s one. Two more and he magically will reappear in Ashburn.

  2. Kyu Kim - Jan 5, 2009 at 4:54 PM

    Agreed with Marcus Mason. Honestly I don’t even know if they even gave Shaun Alexander a fair chance to get accustomed to the running offense.

    As far as the workload, yes I agree, Clinton got way too much. But sometimes he does that to himself and keeps himself in the game. Why? He wants personal stats. I guarantee after the way he ran this season he won’t last 16 games next year.

  3. Joe in Raleigh - Jan 5, 2009 at 11:10 PM

    Rich, I agree that, even ignoring the cap-stuff, it would be silly to get rid of Portis. He’s been the best and most consistent player on the team.

    That said, running backs rarely age gracefully. Those 300+ carry seasons take their toll around the 28th birthday. He’s already had 4 of them. You have to expect less than 4 y/c and less than 16 games from him in 2009.

    Also worrisome are Portis’s very believable comments about not working out in the off-season. If he does what he says and neglects his training, I could very easily see him being a non-factor next year. He’s a funny guy, so maybe he was just kidding — I certainly hope so.

    We still need Portis if we’re going to go anywhere in 2009, but hopefully he’ll get some younger help to keep his carries down.

  4. Anonymous - Jan 6, 2009 at 4:25 AM

    Inexpensive veteran… Wasn’t that supposed to be Sean Alexander?

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