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Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Johnson-Portis tandem's workload

The signing of Larry Johnson on Friday begs the question of what the tandem of Johnson and Clinton Portis means to the Redskins' backfield.

In his prime, Johnson was a classic power runner. Earlier this decade, Johnson was second to none as a downhill runner.

His punishing style and above-average speed for a back his size (he's listed at 6 feet 1, 230 pounds) helped Johnson rush for more than 1,700 yards with at least 17 rushing touchdowns in consecutive seasons (2005 and 2006) for the Kansas City Chiefs. And what some forget is that Johnson was a productive receiver out of the backfield, averaging more than 10 yards per catch on 74 receptions combined his top two seasons.

Moreover, Johnson did not experience the wear and tear most backs -- especially power backs -- face early in his career because of the presence of Priest Holmes, whom Johnson backed up as a rookie. Johnson played a bigger role in the offense his second season as Holmes was slowed because of injuries and eventually supplanted his former backfield partner as the Chiefs' No. 1 back.

The Redskins could ultimately benefit from Johnson's shared workload for several seasons with Holmes in Kansas City. Although 30, typically an age when most running backs approach the downside of their careers, Johnson has not been overworked despite having seasons of 336 and 416 rushes, respectively, during the 2005 and 2006 seasons. In his first seven seasons, Johnson had 1,421 rushes and 154 receptions for 1,575 total plays from scrimmage, according to NFL.com.

In comparison, Portis, who has played eight seasons, has 2,176 carries and 242 catches for 2,418 official touches. That's 843 more plays from scrimmage than Johnson in one more season.

Obviously, Portis didn't share the load early in his career with the Denver Broncos or when he was traded to Washington, and he appeared to have lost a lot at the beginning of last season. Of course, Portis might have had more of a burst had he reported to camp in better shape, but who really knows?

"When you look at Mike Shanahan's offense and the history of what he's done for running backs, Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson, Clinton Portis . . . it's a great place to be a running back," Johnson's agent, Peter Schaffer, said in a phone interview. "There's no doubt about it."

For his part, Portis has been saying all the right things this offseason. He has told Shanahan he's totally committed to the team's new offseason program that begins Monday at Redskins Park, people familiar with the situation said recently, and hopes to revive his career after missing the final eight games last year because of lingering effects from a concussion.

And even if things don't work out and the Portis-Johnson experiment fails, Portis is still guaranteed $6.4 million of his $7.19 million base salary. Portis also is due a $500,000 roster bonus, so it's in his best interest to see if everything comes together for him.

Montgomery returns

The Redskins have re-signed offensive lineman Will Montgomery. Montgomery, a four-year veteran, appeared in all 16 games last season and started three at guard. He was one of five linemen to start at the right guard spot in the turbulent 2009 season.

-- Jason Reid and Rick Maese


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