New Staff Plans to Keep Betts Busy

By Jason Reid and Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, August 17, 2008

For most of last season, Washington Redskins running back Ladell Betts watched from the sideline. He became an afterthought in Washington's offense despite his strong performance in 2006 while top back Clinton Portis was injured, and Betts wondered what his role would be this season under Coach Jim Zorn.

He got his answer early in training camp as Zorn and offensive coordinator Sherman Smith praised Betts and said he would be an integral part of the new coach's West Coast offense. Having recovered from a thigh injury that slowed him for part of training camp, Betts said he is eager to contribute more than he did last season, and he likes the way Zorn does things.

"It's very encouraging" to hear the comments Zorn and Smith have made about him, said Betts, who started in place of Portis last night against the Jets. Portis is healthy, but did not play.

Betts had six carries for 34 yards, with runs of 16 and 10 yards, before suffering a mild knee strain late in the first quarter.

"Especially when you have a new coach, a new regime come in, you're not exactly sure how you're going to fit into their scheme or their system," Betts said. "Whenever the head coach, whenever the staff, gives you a vote of confidence like that it definitely makes you feel good."

Even while he was injured in camp, Betts felt as if he were involved in the Redskins' plans, something that was not always the case last season.

After rushing for a career-high 1,154 yards and 4.7 yards per carry in 2006, Betts had only 335 yards and a 3.6-yard average last season. Portis sat out the final seven games in 2006 because of a hand injury, so former coach Joe Gibbs and former play-caller Al Saunders leaned on Betts.

But with Portis -- who has a close relationship with owner Daniel Snyder -- back at full strength last season, Betts's carries decreased from 245 to 93. Portis rushed for 1,262 yards, averaging 3.9 yards per carry, and 11 touchdowns. He caught 47 passes for 389 yards.

It was not surprising that Betts's production dropped when Portis returned, but it was almost as if the coaching staff, at times, forgot Betts was on the roster, many in the organization said.

Zorn's staff plans to keep Betts busy. "He's got to be involved. He has to be," Smith said. "I think Clinton is going to do a great job, but when you have a talent like Ladell, you've got to play the guy."

Betts made his preseason debut in last week's 17-14 victory over the Buffalo Bills at FedEx Field. He carried five times for 41 yards (an 8.2-yard average), caught three passes for 41 yards (a 13.7-yard average) and scored on 12-yard screen pass from backup quarterback Todd Collins.

"I'd like to think I'm a versatile back that can fit into a lot of different systems," Betts said. "This system gives us a chance to get the ball out into some open spaces and catch the ball out of the backfield. Hopefully, that'll fit some of my strong suits."

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