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No gamble with Betts

November 16, 2006 12:50 am


Redskins linemen say they like blocking for Ladell Betts, who's known for going through--or over--defenders for the last yards. sp111206betts2.jpg

Ladell Betts, who had 20 carries against the Eagles Sunday, will likely be handed the ball more often in games now that starter Clinton Portis has been placed on injured reserve.


ASHBURN--For the professional football player who starts his career as a reserve, everything usually seems backward.

Most often, the player was the star of his high school team and the leader of his college squad. Then he gets to the NFL and spends more time on the bench than on the field.

This is about how it went for Redskins running back Ladell Betts.

After shattering rushing records at Blue Springs (Mo.) High School and then doing the same at the University of Iowa, Betts was selected by the Redskins in the second round of the 2002 draft. He went from big cheese to second banana.

As a rookie in 2002, he backed up Stephen Davis. In 2003, he spelled Trung Canidate, who is no longer in the NFL. And when the Redskins traded for Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis the following year, Betts knew that he would continue to be a reserve for a while longer.

But yesterday the Redskins (3-6) placed Portis on injured reserve because of a broken bone in his hand and a left shoulder that still has not recovered from a preseason injury. And just like that, Ladell Betts earned a half-season as a starting running back.

"Coming off the bench is a humbling experience, but at the same time I had to stay hungry knowing my chance may come, even though you don't know when that chance may be," Betts said yesterday. "I can honestly say I've been preparing myself for this situation, so I'm ready."

In limited action, Betts has been one of the few bright spots for Washington's offense this season. Playing mostly on third downs, he has amassed 366 yards and a touchdown on 80 carries and he has 30 catches for 231 yards. Betts is 5 yards shy of setting his career-high for rushing yards and has already doubled his previous high for receptions in a season. What's more, Betts is averaging 4.5 yards per carry, compared to 4.1 for Portis.

"Everyone on the offensive line really likes his style," Redskins center Casey Rabach said of Betts. "He's not afraid to run people over, and he makes plays to the edge."

Added guard Randy Thomas: "He doesn't complain; he just goes out and does the dirty work. I'm pretty psyched for Ladell."

Portis broke a bone in his right hand in the first quarter of the Redskins' 27-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. The running back had screws inserted on Monday to stabilize the bone, and was originally expected to miss about four weeks.

But his season came to a premature end yesterday. Portis is expected to have surgery on the shoulder he partially dislocated during the Redskins' Aug. 13 preseason game.

"It's something that happens," Portis said. "I think as far as the team, they want me to get healthy, recover and go out and get everything fixed that's wrong. I understand the decision."

The shoulder injury caused Portis to miss the season-opener against the Minnesota Vikings, and it also led Washington to give up next season's third-round draft pick as part of a three-team deal that sent running back T.J. Duckett to the Redskins.

Duckett, who was a goal-line specialist with the Atlanta Falcons, was expected to hold a similar role for the Redskins this year. Instead, the fifth-year pro from Michigan State has played in just two of Washington's nine games, getting a total of seven carries for 40 yards.

With Portis out, Redskins coach Joe Gibbs has said Duckett will receive an increased work load.

"It's not relief. It's not, 'Finally,' or nothing," Duckett said. "It's just that the time has come. It's there, so you have to go out and grab it."


Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell has replaced 36-year-old southpaw Mark Brunell as the team's starting quarterback. Brunell yesterday deflected questions about whether he is considering retiring at season's end, saying he is focused on being the backup.

"If [Campbell] needs help, I'm going to be there for him to offer advice," Brunell said. "That's part of the change."

Cornerback Shawn Springs, who played for Ohio State, says he and right tackle Jon Jansen, who attended Michigan, have made a friendly wager on Saturday's game between the No. 1-ranked Buckeyes and the No. 2-ranked Wolverines.

"I'll probably put an extra-small Baby Gap Ohio State T-shirt on him, so he looks like Mr. Kool-Aid," Springs said.

To reach ADAM HIMMELSBACH: 540/374-5442


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