Redskins running back Clinton Portis carried the ball six times last week in Pittsburgh, but could run five times as often in tomorrow's game against the New York Giants at FedEx Field. The coaches devised a new rotation for the last game, with backup Ladell Betts replacing Portis for an entire series rather than just substituting on third downs, and the Redskins had their longest drives of the game with Betts.
Washington did not trade for Portis and give him a $50 million contract for him to sit on the bench, however, and after such an unusually easy day in Pittsburgh the coaches are gearing up to make full use of him tomorrow. The Redskins will return to a more standard rotation system against the Giants, running backs coach Earnest Byner said, with Betts coming in for a specific play but not for the duration of a series. Before the Pittsburgh game, Byner spoke to Portis about cushioning his load -- Portis entered the game leading the NFL in carries despite his 5-foot-11, 205-pound frame -- and getting Betts more involved, and the Pro Bowl back suggested rotating by series.
"That's how that came to be this past Sunday," Byner said. "Ladell needs to play because the wear and tear of the season is such that it can wear CP down, but we're not going to let that happen again. We made an investment in this boy, we want to see him on the field and if the series happened the way [they did in Pittsburgh], then we're not going to see him on the field the way we would like to see him and the way the fans would like to see him."
Portis had a relatively light November and has carried 17 times or fewer in four of the past five games after carrying 25 times or more in four of the first six games. Portis has just three 100 yards games this season and is being held below four yards per carry, well off the pace he set over two seasons in Denver. With the team all but eliminated from the playoffs, the Redskins may find this a good time to play Betts, a second-round pick in 2002, and evaluate what he can do. Byner believes Betts has the ability to succeed in the NFL.
"Ladell cares about the game," Byner said. "He cares about his effort. He's very conscientious. He's a hard worker at practice all the time. His mentality is right. The guy comes out of backfield, he can catch the ball, break tackles, make people miss and he's contributed on some key third downs."
Defensive Line Regroups
Coach Joe Gibbs said he believes defensive end Phillip Daniels (groin) will play tomorrow after missing the last three games. Stalwart tackle Cornelius Griffin (hip) will also play, giving the Redskins their normal starting defensive line again. . . . Gregg Williams, assistant head coach-defense, said he will rotate players on New York tight end Jeremy Shockey, who presents a matchup problem. Linebacker Marcus Washington and safety Sean Taylor are expected to feature prominently in that role. . . . Gibbs said wide receiver Rod Gardner, who has dropped passes on a weekly basis, worked hard on catching balls out of a passing machine this week in practice. . . . The Redskins committed seven turnovers in their previous meeting with the Giants, a primary reason they lost. That was the first of four straight losses for Washington, while the Giants went on a four-game winning streak to stay in playoff contention. "That game was a big mess for us," cornerback Fred Smoot said. "And they kind of got on a winning streak after that game. Hopefully, that won't happen after this one." New York brings a four-game losing streak into tomorrow's game, while the Redskins have lost three in a row. "It's going to be two desperate teams out there," Gibbs said. The Giants remain in the playoff hunt despite a 5-6 record while Washington would likely have to win the remainder of its games to have any shot on reaching the postseason.