By Andrew Astleford
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 10, 2008
Surrounded with new responsibility following the introduction of Coach Jim Zorn's West Coast system, veterans Ladell Betts and Clinton Portis made productive returns to the field for the first time this preseason.
Betts ran for 41 yards on five carries, Portis had 18 yards on seven attempts, and each scored a touchdown during the Washington Redskins' 17-14 victory over the Buffalo Bills last night at FedEx Field.
Portis didn't play past the first quarter, and Betts didn't play after the second. For Zorn, however, their play was a welcome sight after both missed last Sunday's preseason opener against the Indianapolis Colts.
"Very impressed with our run game," Zorn said. "I was really excited that Clinton Portis came in. You watch as you see the suddenness of his moves, and his ability to move and then re-accelerate, you can see what kind of a special back he really is.
"I didn't know that Ladell was going to play as much as he did. He did a wonderful job too. We have two strong running backs there."
As expected, Portis's night didn't last long. On Thursday, offensive coordinator Sherman Smith said Portis needed live game experience in the system but would play a limited role. Portis went longer than Smith's prediction of 10 plays, staying in the game for two drives during which he caught one pass for five yards in addition to his run production. He capped his night with a one-yard touchdown run on fourth down to give the Redskins a 7-3 lead with 51 seconds left in the first quarter.
Portis's brief play was more than during the entire 2007 preseason. Because knee tendinitis and a separated shoulder hampered his agility in training camp, Portis didn't take one preseason handoff.
But Washington didn't hesitate to call upon Portis during a variety of first-quarter scenarios last night. His first two carries occurred during mid-range second-down plays, during which he gained three yards. Then on second and 10 from the Buffalo 29, Portis burst through the middle for 11 yards, his longest run of the night.
He also took part in play-action, getting open in the flat to the right of Jason Campbell and catching a five-yard pass to open the 12-play, 53-yard drive that resulted in his touchdown run.
"It was good to be out there," Portis said. "I just wanted to go out there and perform well mentally. I just wanted to make sure that I got the right reads, picked up my assignments, ran the right routes, had the right depth and just got a feel for the game."
Betts shouldered a majority of the backfield production in the second quarter. His longest run was for 12 yards through the heart of the defense to the Bills 16 in the opening quarter. Then about midway through the second quarter, Betts cradled a short pass from Todd Collins and tight-roped the right sideline before slipping into the end zone to give the Redskins a 14-3 lead.
Betts's night ended after the second quarter. On the last play of the half, he caught a 17-yard pass from Collins and picked himself from the ground favoring his left leg. At the beginning of the second half, Betts came out of the tunnel without pads. Afterward, Zorn said Betts wasn't seriously hurt.
Zorn has said he could utilize sets with both Portis and Betts in the backfield during the regular season to confuse defenses. If their performances last night were any indication, it could be a productive year in the Redskins' backfield.
"It's good for us to move the ball like we want to," Betts said. "We're running base plays, but we're running the ball pretty much like we want to."