With the chances of running back Stephen Davis returning next season all but gone, the Washington Redskins gave unofficial auditions to rookie Ladell Betts and second-year player Kenny Watson yesterday against the expansion Houston Texans.
The two reserves each ran for more than 100 yards to lead the Redskins to a 26-10 win over the Texans in front of 70,291 at FedEx Field. Both carried 20 times. Betts led the way with 116 yards and one touchdown and Watson finished with 110 yards.
"It's good to see those guys break some tackles and keep their legs working," Coach Steve Spurrier said. "It's very encouraging watching those two run . . . They're close in ability. Anytime you have two guys very close in ability, you play both of them."
Spurrier said recently that he wanted to be less conservative in his play calling. But after three straight losses, Washington (6-9) ran the ball 46 times and threw 32 times as Betts and Watson became the focal points of the offense.
Davis, the team's leading rusher with 820 yards, dislocated his right shoulder on his second carry against Philadelphia last weekend and was inactive for the game. He is expected to be released after the season because he will count $11.4 million against the salary cap next year if he returns with his current contract. Spurrier said Davis's return for the season finale against Dallas next week is questionable.
More important, there are doubts in the organization about whether Davis's style best fits Spurrier's preferred offensive approach.
"Stephen is a straight bruiser, he'll run through there and run over everybody," Watson said. "I kind of use my quickness and vision to try to help me get through there. Who's to say what back fits in Steve Spurrier's offense? You just have to be ready to step in and make plays when your number is called."
Davis's absence provided another opportunity for the former Big Ten players. Watson, from Penn State, had 110 yards on 23 carries against Seattle and had 52 yards on 14 carries against Jacksonville while Davis was out with a knee sprain. He entered the game with 366 yards on 79 carries, second only to Davis.
"I knew I was probably going to be starting this week so I prepared that way," Watson said. "I just want to go out and do my best every time my number is called . . . I'm not really thinking of it as an audition, because next year's not here."
Still, it was the first time since 1985 that Washington had two running backs rush for 100 yards in the same game, when Keith Griffin and George Rogers did it against Atlanta.
"I still have to constantly improve every week," said Betts, who went to Iowa and whose season total was only 93 yards on 28 carries coming into the game. "Today I took another step forward and hopefully they like what they see. There were times I was getting through without even getting touched and Kenny had the same situation, so those guys up front did a great job."
Washington had 15 rushing first downs, 12 by Watson or Betts, and 10 passing. The duo combined for 98 of the Redskins' 100 rushing yards and six of Washington's 14 first downs in the first half.
Said Spurrier: "Both of them ran well and we plan on using them similarly next week."