- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Middle linebacker Antonio Pierce could be starting his final game for Washington on Sunday, but the free agent-to-be reiterated yesterday that he has no plans to leave the Redskins.

“I’m big-time confident that it will get done,” Pierce said of ongoing contract negotiations. “[Redskins owner Dan Snyder] and Coach [Joe] Gibbs are committed to it. They know I don’t want to go anywhere else. This isn’t going to be my last game with the Redskins.”

Pierce, who leads the Redskins with 150 tackles in his first full season as a starter, nearly signed a modest, multiple-year deal with Minnesota as a restricted free agent last winter before gambling on a one-year contract with Washington with hopes of the big payoff that should be coming soon. Pierce said he has no regrets about staying even though Washington is 5-10 and Minnesota, which visits FedEx Field on Sunday, is 8-7 and on the verge of a playoff spot.

“They’ve got the [fourth-worst] defense in the league,” Pierce said. “We’re fighting for No.1. Yeah, I want to be in the playoffs, but at the end of the day, you have to feel good about yourself.”

Meanwhile, the Redskins’ other Pro Bowl alternate who’s unsigned for 2005, cornerback Fred Smoot, is just trying to get healthy. Smoot, who spent Sunday night in a Dallas hospital after bruising his right side and kidney in the 13-10 loss to the Cowboys, didn’t practice yesterday and is doubtful for the Vikings game.

The Redskins revealed that Pro Bowl linebacker Marcus Washington suffered a mild sprained knee against Dallas, didn’t practice yesterday and is questionable for Sunday.

Pro Bowl alternate cornerback Shawn Springs was given the day off to further recuperate from his quick return after missing a game with a concussion. Gibbs said it’s still unclear whether receiver Laveranues Coles, who has averaged just 10.5 yards on his 87 catches, will have offseason surgery on his chronically ailing big toe.

With star running back Clinton Portis out with a torn pectoral tendon, Ladell Betts will make just the second start of his three-year career Sunday. However, Betts isn’t unhappy with his limited role with the Redskins, who took him in the second round of the 2002 draft.

Betts rushed for 214 yards in the final two games of his rookie year after Stephen Davis was hurt. Davis was cut after the season, but Betts’ chances of challenging Trung Canidate to be the starter were hampered by a hyperextended elbow in preseason and then a broken forearm that kept him out seven games. Last winter, the Redskins changed coaches and traded for Portis, a 1,500-yard runner in each of his two seasons with Denver.

Gibbs, who had been out of the NFL for 12 years, envisioned Betts as a third-down back but has come to appreciate his toughness and all-around ability on offense and special teams. But Betts has little chance of usurping Portis in 2005 even though he has averaged 4.0 yards a carry to Portis’ 3.8 this year and at 222 pounds — 17 heavier than Portis — is better suited to Gibbs’ power-based attack.

“When you’re drafted, you have hopes of starting, but circumstances happen and you have to roll with the punches,” Betts said. “With Trung, I knew it was somewhat of an open competition. With Clinton, they paid the guy [$13 million to sign] and he has proven himself. I wouldn’t be playing if I didn’t have the competitive drive to be No.1. But if they want me to be here, I would love to be here. My style fits this offense. I like to run between the tackles.”

Rock Cartwright, who started three games last year but hasn’t carried the ball this season, will be Betts’ backup against Minnesota.

Three down, four in

As expected, the Redskins put Portis (chest), linebacker LaVar Arrington (knee) and cornerback Ade Jimoh (ankle) on injured reserve. To fill their roster spots and that of offensive lineman Dan Goodspeed, who was cut Tuesday, Washington promoted running back Dahrran Diedrick and cornerback Rufus Brown from the practice squad and signed former New Orleans defensive end Melvin Williams and former Philadelphia tight end Kori Dickerson.

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