By Barry Svrluga and Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
In a flurry of roster adjustments, the Washington Redskins yesterday replaced their struggling rookie punter with veteran Ryan Plackemeier, ended the season of safety Reed Doughty by placing him on injured reserve and signed former league most valuable player Shaun Alexander to fill in for ailing running back Ladell Betts.
The moves came after a day in which coaches and team officials put free agents through workouts at Redskins Park before preparations begin today for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. The team also signed veteran safety Mike Green to take Doughty's place both on defense, where the Redskins were left with only rookies at strong safety, and special teams.
Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' executive vice president for football operations, declined to comment on the moves. They were made, though, to address three distinct situations.
Alexander, who led the league in rushing in 2005, received an opportunity because Betts went down with a sprained left knee in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 19-17 loss to St. Louis. Alexander, 31, took a red-eye flight from the West Coast and landed yesterday morning, Zorn said, working out early in Ashburn.
"He looks fit," Zorn said. "He's got a lot of want-to in his attitude."
After winning the MVP award in 2005, when he scored a then-record 27 rushing touchdowns, Alexander endured a precipitous fall, playing 23 games in 2006 and '07, when he averaged 3.5 yards per carry. The Seahawks cut him last spring, and he tried out with Detroit, New Orleans and Cincinnati but did not land a spot.
Zorn and running backs coach Stump Mitchell worked with Alexander in Seattle. Zorn said he talked to Alexander about his potential role, which would be to back up Clinton Portis, the NFL's leading rusher. Betts, the regular backup, is expected to be out as long as four weeks.
Alexander agreed to a one-year deal at the minimum salary for a veteran.
"I think he is the kind of guy that is smart enough to understand the situation," Zorn said. "We've talked to Clinton. Clinton understands the situation. This thing could be temporary, or it could run the entire season. We're not going to put some sort of limitation on where we're at in four weeks, two weeks, however long it takes Ladell to get back. But [Alexander] knows the situation he's coming into."
Portis, who leads the league with 22.7 carries per game, frequently gets a few series off, and Zorn has been pleasantly surprised by the development of the running game, which ranks third in the NFL at 152.3 yards per game. Betts is averaging 4.1 yards on 38 carries.
Zorn said Rock Cartwright, who has just one carry this year, will "immediately" become Portis's backup as Alexander gets into football shape. "You got to get hit," Zorn said of Alexander. "He hasn't been hit yet. So we'll just have to wait and see."
Yet even on a day on which a three-time Pro Bowl selection joined the team, the most significant development at Redskins Park might have come at punter.
Plackemeier, who played for Seattle for two seasons but was cut after one game this year, will take the place of Brooks, a sixth-round draft choice who made the Redskins out of training camp but was inconsistent in his six-game career.
Brooks ranked last in the NFL in both average yards per punt (39.6) and average net yardage (32.1) before he was cut.
Plackemeier, who agreed to a two-year deal, was cut by the Seahawks after allowing a 30-yard net average on 11 punts in Seattle's season-opening loss to Buffalo. In 33 career games, he averaged 42.3 yards per punt with a 35.5-yard net average. He beat out veteran Josh Miller, Waylon Prather and Jeremy Kapinos in auditions at Redskins Park. Zorn said Prather, a rookie, and Kapinos, who played one game last season for the Jets, were eliminated because the Redskins wanted more experience at the position.
Brooks, meanwhile, came to the facility to receive treatment on his injured hip flexor. He said the injury -- first mentioned by Zorn on Monday -- had been bothering him since halftime of the Sept. 21 game at Dallas.
Brooks was waived injured, and because the team used that designation, he can be placed on injured reserve after clearing waivers.
"I thought it was just a little sore," Brooks said. "I wanted to push through it. I tried to tough it out, and it just got progressively worse over the next few weeks."
Brooks, the only punter selected in the April draft, beat out veteran Derrick Frost -- now struggling with Green Bay -- in training camp, but his transgressions included a low kick that the Saints' Reggie Bush returned for a touchdown on Sept. 14 and a 26-yarder at a key moment against the Rams. The entire situation -- poor performance and sagging health -- affected his kicking, he said.
"It's a little physical and a little mental," Brooks said. "I'm sitting here thinking about it, trying to get it well. I had to cut my reps in practice. I had to cut my reps in pregame warmups. Yeah, I was in pain. But I don't want to use that as an excuse. That's why I'm trying to keep it quiet. I don't really want to come out and say: 'I'm just hurt. That's why I'm punting bad,' or anything."
Doughty, who began the season as the starting strong safety, has struggled with a nerve problem in his back for the past two weeks. Though rookie Chris Horton had capably replaced him in the starting lineup, the team chose to sign Green to add depth. The Redskins also cut defensive back Justin Hamilton, who had been inactive the last four weeks. Zorn said it is possible Doughty will need surgery.
"He still has some numbness in his feet" as a result of the back problem, Zorn said. "We've got to have production there, especially with a special teamer."
Green, 31, agreed to a one-year deal for the veteran minimum salary. He played six seasons with Chicago, including four when Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Blache held the same position with the Bears. He played in 15 games for the Seahawks last year and was last a full-time starter in 2004 with Chicago. He has a reputation as a fine special teams player, Zorn said, though he missed time the past two years with injuries.
"Those have been rehabbed," Zorn said. "This is Greg's safety that he's had for years. Very comfortable with him. His name has been brought up several times."