By Barry Svrluga and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, September 22, 2010; D1
With their running game among the league's worst through two games, the Washington Redskins Tuesday made a minor move with a major name, cutting veteran Larry Johnson in advance of Sunday's game at St. Louis - a decision that makes undrafted rookie free agent Keiland Williams the primary backup to Clinton Portis.
Though Johnson's contributions in the Redskins' first two games - five carries for two yards in limited playing time - were negligible, Johnson's agent said the Redskins told him that the move was made because the Redskins needed a player for the St. Louis game who could contribute on special teams. Johnson and Portis play only on offense, and two sources familiar with the situation said Tuesday that Washington had signed Chad Simpson, a third-year pro who spent 2008-09 with Indianapolis, where he returned 53 kickoffs.
"We needed to make a roster move in preparation for this week's game against the Rams," Redskins General Manager Bruce Allen said in a statement.
Though Johnson had spoken about trying to adjust to his limited role, he did not expect the move, his agent said Tuesday.
"We were caught completely off guard by it," said Peter Schaffer, Johnson's representative. "It was not something that we were expecting. I was told by the Redskins that this was a short-term situation brought on by the need to have a special teams running back, that they cannot afford the luxury of two starting running backs for this week."
Asked whether the Redskins plan to re-sign Johnson after the St. Louis game, Schaffer said, "I don't know. There are no guarantees about anything in this league." In the meantime, Schaffer said he would seek employment for Johnson - a 30-year-old eight-year veteran who has rushed for 6,221 yards.
The Redskins will face the Rams - who have allowed 142.5 rushing yards per game, 30th in the NFL - with a slightly altered ground game.
Johnson, who grew up in Charles County, signed a three-year deal as a free agent in the offseason and competed through training camp not only with Portis and Williams, but with fellow free agent Willie Parker and second-year back Ryan Torain, neither of whom made the final 53-man roster.
As the Redskins' running game stalled - through two games, they average just 53.5 yards per game, 31st in the league - Johnson contributed little. His nadir came at the start of the fourth quarter in Sunday's overtime loss to Houston, when the Redskins were nursing a lead. Johnson couldn't get outside on a run to the left, and lost 10 yards, pinning the Redskins at their 10.
"It's tough, but you just got to learn a little bit more, as far as when it's your turn, you get one chance or two chances to put your pride aside and do what's best for the team," Johnson said Monday. "I just got caught up with trying to make a play at a crucial point in the game."
Though teammates and coaches said Johnson didn't complain about his limited role, it was clear by the end of the Texans game that he was being surpassed by Williams, a rookie who went undrafted out of LSU but who impressed the coaching staff in the preseason. Williams, 24, still doesn't have a regular season carry, but he caught four passes for 15 yards against the Texans, and the coaching staff appears increasingly comfortable with him.
Simpson spent two seasons with the Colts before he was cut following last year's Super Bowl, in which he returned five kicks. He averaged 23.4 yards per kickoff return with the Colts, including one for a touchdown. He also had 30 carries for 147 yards and three touchdowns, and spent this preseason with Buffalo before he was cut.
Simpson's arrival doesn't necessarily mean the Redskins are through with Johnson. And Johnson, clearly, doesn't feel as if he's done.
"Larry feels he's in great shape and has a lot to offer to teams, and as I told the Redskins, it's my job to try to find Larry the best possible situation," Schaffer said. "His preference would have been to play for the Redskins for the remainder of his career. But given the fact right now that he's unemployed, we're going to look at every other alternative that's out there and try to find a great situation for him."Portis on his remarks
Portis stood behind his controversial comments about female reporters in men's locker rooms, saying in a radio interview that his previous remarks were "the truth."
In an appearance last week, Portis made statements that prompted a rebuke from the NFL and action by the Redskins. Portis also spoke with Coach Mike Shanahan about his remarks and issued a statement of apology through the team.
On Tuesday, in an interview on the same show, 106.7 The Fan's "The Mike Wise Show with Holden Kushner," Portis painted himself as a victim in the situation.
"When people don't wish you the best, there's always something that they gonna find. You know? I think everything that come out of my mouth is the truth. Whether people like it or not, it's always the truth. With the comments that I made that you didn't agree to, they were true. And some people can't stand the truth, and some people do. At the same time that you know me, if you know my sense of humor, you know the way I talk, you know you getting the truth, and you getting the humorous side of me."