Blaylock Will Be Ready When Redskins Are

Derrick Blaylock's best year came with the Chiefs in 2004, when he rushed for four touchdowns -- in one game.
Derrick Blaylock's best year came with the Chiefs in 2004, when he rushed for four touchdowns -- in one game. (Gail Burton - AP)
By Steve Yanda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 13, 2007

Robert McFarland would like to tell a story about Washington Redskins running back Derrick Blaylock. Like all the others that detail his career, this one includes an impressive display of athleticism and an injury.

In 1996, McFarland, then the offensive coordinator for Stephen F. Austin, headed out to Atlanta High School in Atlanta, Tex., to watch Blaylock, a star in football and track, run a 100-meter dash. Everything was going well until Blaylock neared the finish line.

Blaylock leaned at the tape, became off-balance and stumbled. His left leg extended farther in front than it should, and everyone heard a loud crack. "He was pressing so hard, it was constricting the muscles in his legs," said McFarland, now the offensive coordinator at Iowa State. "The muscles contracted, and he cracked the femur in his leg."

The next fall, Blaylock started 11 games as a senior for Atlanta High, rushing for 1,382 yards and 14 touchdowns. Still, no colleges offered scholarships and Blaylock, McFarland said, still walked with a slight limp. When Blaylock ran 100 meters in 10.4 seconds in the spring of 1997, McFarland signed him immediately.

At Stephen F. Austin, Blaylock would wait his turn behind other running backs who were older or supposedly more experienced. When he got into games, he made his presence felt, but there always was someone in front and always an injury nagging him.

"Derrick was always, in our opinion, the best running back we had, but at that time, we were blessed with a lot of talent at that position," McFarland said. "We were trying to keep everyone happy."

A six-year NFL veteran, Blaylock, 27, has spent his career following the same formula: sturdy backup, more than serviceable when given playing time, seemingly always battling injury. Now with the Redskins after two years with the New York Jets and four with the Kansas City Chiefs, Blaylock again finds himself fighting to prove he belongs.

On paper, it appears playing time will be hard to come by with Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts ahead of him on the depth chart. Blaylock knows he will have his chances in preseason -- especially with Portis sidelined by knee tendinitis -- and he made the most of his first opportunity on Saturday night. In the Redskins' 14-6 victory over Tennessee, he was Washington's leading rusher with 28 yards on nine carries, with the longest gainer going for 13 yards.

"You never know when a guy is going to go down, so you've got to be prepared," Blaylock said after a recent training camp session. "You've got to know your stuff and know what you're doing, so if someone does go down, the coaches trust in you to go in and perform at the same level as the other guy.

"That's crucial, man. Crucial."

Al Saunders, the Redskins' associate head coach-offense, knows well the importance of a solid backup running back. As the offensive coordinator of the Chiefs from 2001 to '05, Saunders had Priest Holmes, one of the top running backs in the league at the time, and Larry Johnson, a young star in the making. For all the hype surrounding those two, Saunders said it was Blaylock, then with the Chiefs, who pushed the entire group.

"The value of a backup player is the ability to play at a high level on Sundays without very many reps during the course of the week; that's where Derrick Blaylock excels," Saunders said. "What he did for us in Kansas City was back up Priest Holmes and kept Larry Johnson really scrambling for that backup spot."

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