Unexpected names now in the running for Redskins

Ladell Betts managed just five yards on four carries before going down with an injury.
Ladell Betts managed just five yards on four carries before going down with an injury. (John Mcdonnell/the Washington Post)
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By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 23, 2009

ARLINGTON, TEX. -- As the Washington Redskins try to shake off the 7-6 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, they now must prepare to use a third starting running back in as many weeks on Sunday in Philadelphia. It's hardly by design.

With injuries expected to sideline both Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright, who's considered primarily a kickoff return specialist, is expected to start at running back against the Eagles.

"Man, this is something I dreamed about . . . just being able to go in and be the back, and be able to try to put the team on my back. I dream about this," Cartwright said. "This is what you live for, for this opportunity."

A running back's dream and a head coach's nightmare. While coaches praise Cartwright's work ethic and his contribution to special teams as vital, they didn't anticipate needing to reach this deep down the depth chart at such a crucial position.

Portis, who suffered a concussion on Nov. 8 at Atlanta, visited with specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center on Friday. Coach Jim Zorn said after the Cowboys game that his star running back would miss a third straight game and will not be available against the Eagles. It was not immediately clear how much more time Portis might miss, but when Zorn was asked whether Portis is a candidate for the season-ending injured reserve list, he said, "Not at this moment."

Betts had 114 yards replacing Portis last week against Denver but didn't fare as well Sunday. He had only five yards on four carries when he went down with a knee injury in the first quarter. Zorn said after the game that Betts had suffered a torn medial collateral ligament, which could mark an early end to Betts's season. Betts was holding out hope that he had suffered only a sprain, and is expected to undergo an MRI exam on Monday morning.

"It just felt a little awkward the way I got tackled," Betts said. " I knew my knee got twisted up, but I didn't know to what extent and how bad, what injury might have happened. When they brought me to the sideline, they tested to see my stability, to see if the knee was moving around. They felt like it was moving around a little bit, so they shut me down, and iced me up."

Betts said he heard no pop in his knee and wasn't feeling any pain. "Just not much stability," he said.

As Betts had before him, Cartwright fared well when he was thrown in with the Washington starters. He finished Sunday's game with 67 yards rushing on 13 carries and 73 yards on seven receptions.

"It's not about me; it's about this team," said Cartwright. "If we would've won, it would've been different. You don't play the game for individual stats. You play to win. If I would've rushed for 200 yards, and we lost the game, it doesn't matter. We didn't win."

Cartwright has started just three games in his career -- the final three games of the 2003 season. Before Portis went down, Cartwright hadn't had more than five carries in a game since December 2005. And until Betts went down Sunday, Cartwright hadn't posted more than 10 carries since December 2003.

Cartwright's final stats against Dallas were his best since 2003. He acknowledged some mistakes in pass protection but with constant pressure on quarterback Jason Campbell, Cartwright was an especially valuable receiving target out of the backfield.

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