Redskins' newly added Willie Parker in 'open competition' with Clinton Portis, Larry Johnson

By Rick Maese and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, April 3, 2010

Clinton Portis has been the Redskins' unchallenged starter since he arrived in town in 2004, but that clearly won't be the case this year. The Redskins have added yet another veteran running back in free agent Willie Parker, and the team's starting spot in the backfield is apparently up for grabs.

"It's flat-out an open competition," said Parker's agent, Doug Hendrickson. "That's what they told Willie. It's a flat-out open competition as to who's going to play and who's going to start. They said that's the way it's going to be."

Though the team wouldn't confirm the news Friday, Parker has agreed to an incentive-laden one-year contract worth as much as $3.1 million, according to an individual with first-hand knowledge of the deal. Parker, who appeared in two Pro Bowls during his six seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, will now find himself in a three-way battle with Portis and Larry Johnson, who signed a free-agent contract with Washington last month.

"I think I can still be a great running back," Parker told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this week. "I know that for a fact."

Where exactly he'll fit in the Redskins' backfield will be a major point of intrigue through training camp. Coach Mike Shanahan has said repeatedly that he wants competition at every position, and he's certainly created plenty at the running back spot.

The Redskins won't be lacking in experience. Parker is 29 years old, Portis 28 and Johnson 30. The trio has combined for 11 seasons of 1,000-plus yards, though Johnson hasn't had one since 2006, Parker since 2007 and Portis since 2008.

Of the three, Portis is due substantially more money; he's owed a guaranteed $6.4 million this season.

Parker topped 1,000 yards from 2005-07, and though he began last season as the Steelers' starting halfback, he lost his job to Rashard Mendenhall after suffering a case of turf toe in Week 3. Parker finished the year with 389 yards on 98 carries, though in the Steelers' final game of the season, Parker had 91 yards on 12 carries at Miami.

Despite his strong finish, Parker didn't garner much attention during free agency. He visited Redskins Park on March 8-9 and also visited with the St. Louis Rams.

"I'm kind of surprised," Parker told the Post-Gazette. "But people looked over me my entire life."

According to the newspaper, Parker spent two months working out at Olympic gold medalist Michael Johnson's Performance Center in Texas and has added eight pounds. He was listed at 206 last year.

Redskins coaches clearly thought the running game was in need of improvement. Following last season, they released Ladell Betts, Rock Cartwright and Marcus Mason and opted against re-signing Quinton Ganther. In addition to Portis, Johnson and Parker, they still have under contract Anthony Alridge and P.J. Hill.

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