Correction to This Article
In some Aug. 18 editions, a Sports article about Washington Redskins rookie running back Marcus Mason incorrectly said that he left the University of Illinois because he was homesick and wanted more playing time. According to the university, Mason was dismissed for violating team rules, which was reflected in the final edition.

A Young Man in a Rush

Marcus Mason, an undrafted free agent running back who is trying to earn a spot on the Redskins' roster, was a high school standout at Georgetown Prep.
Marcus Mason, an undrafted free agent running back who is trying to earn a spot on the Redskins' roster, was a high school standout at Georgetown Prep. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

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By Katie Carrera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 18, 2007

As the Washington Redskins made their way off the practice field Wednesday night, one group remained down by the far goal post. There, the rookies huddled together with the team's helmets, jerseys and pads. They were responsible for carrying the equipment back to the players' facility at Redskins Park.

They also were in planning mode, as it's tradition for all Redskins rookies to perform skits for their coaches and veteran teammates during training camp. For his moment in the embarrassing spotlight, undrafted free agent Marcus Mason decided he would impersonate running backs coach Earnest Byner.

"I listen to every word that he says in the meetings," said Mason, the only rookie running back on the team and a graduate of Georgetown Prep. "I call him up just to see how he's doing, and I've got his accent down pat. I've been speaking to him almost every day since April, and now I think I know him pretty well, and I can do it."

Mason's constant contact with Byner since he showed up for local tryouts may give him an edge when imitating his position coach's mellow tone and cool cadence. But Mason's inquisitive manner also is one of the reasons the 23-year-old sticks out.

"Even in [organized team activities] and the minicamps, he was always asking me questions. He's real hungry for the knowledge, and it's good to have somebody like that around," Byner said, adding that Mason will call him regularly or stop by his office to talk football or just about anything else.

"That's rare with any player to tell you the truth, but it's an indicator of the kind of guy he is."

Mason knows he's playing against long odds as he tries to crack a roster that already has talent in the backfield.

"I have so many veteran running backs helping me out whenever something goes wrong, so in that aspect it's been a breeze," Mason said. "But it's tough, too, because I don't know exactly where I'd fit in."

He'll have ample opportunity to show where he fits in tonight against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rock Cartwright, who had seven carries in last week's preseason game against Tennessee, hurt his hamstring Wednesday night and probably won't be in uniform for tonight's game. With Cartwright and Clinton Portis out and Ladell Betts likely receiving limited carries, Mason could be handed the ball often.

"Derrick [Blaylock's] going to play, and Marcus is going to play, and hopefully Dee [Brown] is going to play," Coach Joe Gibbs said. "We're going to get them all in there I hope this week, and I think every time somebody gets in there they've got an opportunity, and we tell them: 'That's your chance. It's going to be on film, we're all going to see it and when you get a rep in there it needs to be what you are, what you can do.' "

It might be hard to spot the 5-foot-9, 215-pound Mason as he dodges through massive offensive and defensive linemen, but when he emerges from behind tacklers, it becomes easy enough. Mason is most noticeable when he reaches the end zone, as he did in the Redskins' first preseason game.


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