Part Two will cover both Running Backs as well as fullbacks, mostly because I don't think Fullbacks need their own section. The Redskins have one of the deepest crops of Running Backs in the NFL, with Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright all posting 100-yard rushing performances in their careers, and with Portis and Betts both with the potential to rush for 1200 yards in a starting role. Portis has been knocked in recent years because the Redskins traded Champ Bailey away to acquire him, and his performance is not what it was in Denver. I disagree with this. I'll admit that I've had times when I've missed Champ a lot, but his play hasn't been nearly as strong the last two years in Denver. He's been making the Pro Bowl more on his reputation, while his passing defense consistently ranks at the bottom of the league. Clinton Portis (save 2006) has been a stabilizing force for the Redskins rushing attack, and the Skins have been one of the strongest rushing teams in the NFL in recent years. If they expect to make the playoffs again, the rushing attack will be the most important factor for the offense. Here are some things to look for going into summer:
Shaping Up: Portis has had injury troubles the last few years, and many people are beginning to think he's not a very durable back. Many people are reporting that Portis is in the best shape of his Redskins career this offseason, and is poised for a very strong 2008 campaign. This may have been derailed a little bit when Portis and Safety LaRon Landry decided to race after practice one day, and Portis came out of it with a strained hip flexor. Hopefully the coaches are right in saying he should be ready for camp, but fans should be a little concern about his injury tendencies the last few years.
Out in the Flat: Because of the implementation of the West Coast offense, look for Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts to catch the ball more out of the backfield. Both have proven to be pretty good receivers out of the backfield, but the offensive rhythm will rely on their hands as much as their legs now. Portis actually had his best receiving season in 2007 with the most catches (47) and yards (389) of his career. Betts had 53 catches for 445 yards in 2006 when he was in the starting role for a majority of the season. Jim Zorn will rely much more on their receiving abilities than Joe Gibbs did, and they need to perform well in order for the offense to work.
Yards Per Carry: Portis has also been knocked because his career YPC has dropped to 3.9 since he joined the Redskins. Last year, he was very up and down with his YPC varying greatly from month-to-month (September-4.7, October-3.1, November-4.5, December-3.5). The Redskins need to keep him above 4.0 to consistently win games. Zorn needs to find a way to keep Ladell Betts' average up, as it dropped from 4.7 in 2006 to 3.6 in 2007. If the running game can consistently gain over four yards-a-carry, they will be very difficult to defend overall.
Positives: Clinton Portis (26) and Ladell Betts (28) are both in the primes of their careers, and should have a strong season, especially if Zorn balances their carries well. Betts should be able to spell Portis in order to keep them both healthy, and they seem to have a good relationship, so they shouldn't bicker over carries too much. On top of this, Portis is the best blocking running back in the NFL, so he allows Zorn to keep him on the field in obvious passing situations. He and Betts allow for a very diverse offense. If one or both goes down, Rock Cartwright is a strong 3rd option, and Mike Sellers provides a lot of brute force in the short yardage game. Overall, this is one of the strongest if not strongest units on the roster, and should go a long way towards a 2008 playoff push.
Negatives: Portis has been nicked up the last few years and his YPC stats can be a little scary in some outings. The Redskins need to see much more consistency from game-to-game if they want to see a strong season as a whole (rather than a late surge to put them in as a wild card). If they expect to compete for the division, they must stay healthy, must catch well, and must make the most of their opportunities. If the running backs don't play well, it could be a very long season.
- Skill- This backfield doesn't have the home-run ability as some (Adrian Peterson) but they hit a lot of singles and doubles, and like to grind down the opposing defense. While none of them is very big, they are physical and quick, which is a good combination
- Athleticism- Clinton Portis is not only a strong back, but a great blocker and receiver. His body adjustments and versatility allow for him to be one of the most athletic backs in the NFL
- Depth- The Redskins have a Pro Bowl caliber back in Portis, a strong starter in Betts, and a quality backup in Cartwright. Sellers is a solid Fullback as well as a punishing runner. All of them are experienced with their line and quarterback. That counts for a lot
- Experience- Clinton Portis has rushed for over 7700 yards in his 7 NFL seasons, and seems to be in the best shape of his career. Betts has a season of starts under his belt and has been on the roster since 2002. Portis began his career in Denver in the West Coast, so that should allow him to have a very big year
- Intangibles- These guys don't really have to run with a chip on their shoulders, but Portis is itching to get back to the Pro Bowl and prove to people that Denver did not make him a great back. Their major motivation is to carry the Redskins to the playoffs and stabilize Jason Campbell's offense
Next Section: Wide Receivers