The running back competition, among the most fierce in camp, might be settled in large part due to injuries, as John Simon and Rock Cartwright were both unable to participate in the Washington Redskins 27-0 trouncing of Atlanta in their preseason finale at FedEx Field last night. Ladell Betts, meantime, made his first significant appearance of the preseason and produced two touchdowns, likely solidifying his place on the squad.
Simon missed his second straight game with a shoulder injury -- although he was able to practice this week -- while Cartwright was out with a neck stinger suffered in practice. Those two players are on the bubble to crack the final 53-man roster, which must be set by tomorrow, and are battling Betts and Sultan McCullough for the final two slots at that position behind Clinton Portis and Chad Morton.
Cartwright wanted badly to play last night, expressing that desire through the week and realizing the import to his chances of making the team, but was ruled out by the medical staff. Cartwright has spent the last two seasons in Washington, while Simon was brought in last season as a free agent to bolster the depth at running back.
Betts, a former second-round pick who was hindered by a hamstring injury most of the preseason and limited to four prior carries in exhibition games, displayed his speed and power last night, fighting for tough yards up the middle and racing the ball off tackle as well. Betts ran nine times for 27 yards, showing no lingering aftermath of the injury. He scored on rushes of five and three yards and McCullough played the majority of the final three quarters
"I was pretty banged up for most of the preseason," Betts said. "So I think it was pretty important for me and for the coaches for me to get back out here."
Portis, the feature back, played sparingly as the team kept him fresh and injury-free for next week's opener against Tampa Bay. He finished the preseason with 20 rushes for 77 yards.
Morton, the team's top kick returner and positional back, is a lock to make the squad. McCullough has led the team in rushing in the preseason, but could lose out in the numbers game.
Defensive end Phillip Daniels overcame an abdominal injury to make his preseason debut last night and started the game on the line along with Cornelius Griffin, Joe Salave'aand Renaldo Wynn. Daniels had barely been able to practice in training camp because of the problem, but made it through last week and felt well enough to play much of the first quarter last night.
Brandon Noble, who has recovered from serious knee surgery had been starting at tackle, played with the second team, as did end Regan Upshaw, who had been starting in Daniels's spot.
"It was good getting that first contact out of the way," Daniels said. "Now I'm ready to go and next week is for real. You never want to go into the season without seeing how fast the game is and it's good to get that nervousness out of there. A nine-year vet you wouldn't think would be nervous, but because of the injury, I was."
The starting offensive line had a different look due to health problems. Right tackle Jon Jansen was lost for the season with an Achilles' injury in the preseason opener, while left tackle Chris Samuels missed last night's game after spraining his right ankle last Friday in St. Louis.
Right guard Randy Thomas remains out with a neck injury, although the team is optimistic both he and Samuels will be able to play Sunday against Tampa Bay.
"I thought [the offensive line] did a great job," assistant head coach-offense Joe Bugel said.
Ray Brown, 41, who was signed during training camp, took Thomas's spot, while rookie Jim Molinaro, a sixth-round pick from Notre Dame, started in place of Samuels. The makeshift line was very effective against Atlanta's first-string defense, providing ample time for the quarterbacks to operate and opening up considerable holes for the running backs. Only center Lennie Friedman and left guard Derrick Dockery remain in the same starting spots on the offensive line that opened camp.
Linebacker LaVar Arrington (stinger) and safety Sean Taylor (thigh bruise) received minor medical attention during the game but both were declared to be fine and suffered no significant injuries. . . .
Backup quarterback Patrick Ramsey has his best performance of the preseason, completing 11 of 21 passes for 81 yards. "I felt a lot better about this one than the previous ones," Ramsey said. . . .
Place kicker John Hall earned several slaps on the back for his bruising tackle on Atlanta's Woody Dantzler on a return in the first quarter. . . .
Linebacker Chris Clemons (hamstring) and tight end Fred Baxter (knee) missed last night's game and defensive back Rashad Bauman left the game with an ankle injury.