Betts, Cartwright Can Help Keep Things Running

By Mike Wise
Sunday, August 20, 2006

I was watching Ladell Betts, scooting right, lowering his head, boring forward for five yards when he should have lost one. And I was thinking what an effective, move-the-sticks running back he is, a tuck-it-away Joe Gibbs kind of player who can run, catch and block enough to start for a number of NFL teams. Betts can't start for this one because Clinton Portis is too good when he's not hurt.

But that's beside the point, which is that Gibbs's offense can function with Ladell Betts. It can win without Portis. That can't be said about a half-dozen irreplaceable parts.

For instance, Mark Brunell can't go down and out. Simple as that. Did you see Jason Campbell and Todd Collins get picked off? Okay, so a fed-up Gibbs was portrayed as being as angry as he's ever been after a loss. The man who won three Super Bowls does not like to have a reverse run on him by a 35-year-old neophyte on the other sideline. Even in preseason. But before the masses groan about looking putrid against the Jets, they should pay attention to the larger picture: Mark Brunell did not get hurt, therefore Washington recorded a victory last night. This is all about able bodies.

And if Jon Jansen is not out there protecting Brunell's blind side, that's real trouble. There's no one to legitimately fill holes on the offensive line. Same with Cornelius Griffin, who absolutely can't be lost to injury again. When the news came that Griffin had sprained his right knee in the first quarter of the second preseason game, doomsayers winced and probably thought, "There goes the run defense."

The notion that the season rides on health and depth is not wrongheaded. But it's also half the story.

Because if Portis were to miss extended time, more than the next few weeks with a partially separated shoulder, it's not as much of an emergency situation. Yeah, Gibbs misses Portis's explosiveness and the offense becomes more predictable.

But Al Saunders, the man Gibbs hired to run the offense, loves short-yardage backs who will make three yards out of minus-1. Ladell Betts is that kind of back. Rock Cartwright, who plunged in from the 1 against the Jets for a touchdown, is that kind of back.

It's why they're still here, the longest-tenured players drafted by the organization after Jansen and Chris Samuels in 1999 and 2000, respectively. Betts and Cartwright went from the misery of the ol' ball coach to the majesty of the really ol' ball coach.

"Class of '02, that's us," Betts said earlier this week. "We've seen a little of everything in five years."

"When we got here, we had Coach [Steve] Spurrier and there wasn't much discipline," Cartwright said. "Just didn't feel like an NFL atmosphere, you know. Now, with Coach Gibbs, you can't even compare. Different world, man."

Different world. Same stubby, compact bruising duo, backing up the star.

Betts and Cartwright shared a two-bedroom apartment in Atlanta in the offseason. They worked out. Shopped, often ending up buying the same shirts and jeans. And they would end a lot of nights in some steel-cage death match of a video game, usually Madden NFL '06. "Music, clothes, we're just a lot alike," Cartwright said.

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