- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 28, 2006

About to enter the final season of his contract and preparing to carry the Washington Redskins’ rushing load until Clinton Portis returned from a shoulder injury, Ladell Betts was jolted in August when the team acquired T.J. Duckett.

Betts used words like “shock” and “surprised” to describe the trade, which many viewed as a sign the team wasn’t confident in his ability to start.

“I don’t understand it, but this is a business,” Betts said a day after the trade was finalized. “I guess they felt like they needed to make an addition.”

It’s interesting how things turned out.

Portis couldn’t stay healthy and his season ended after nine games.

Duckett has only 35 carries in 15 games.

Betts has a new contract (five years, $11 million), a new role (No. 1 running back) and is on the cusp of a new team record (six consecutive 100-yard rushing games).

“I always thought I had a future here,” Betts said yesterday at Redskin Park. “I’m here to compete and if you don’t want to compete, you’re in the wrong business. No matter who they would have brought in, it wouldn’t have changed how I approached the game. Luckily, everything worked out for me.

“I wasn’t really upset [with the trade]. Saying I was shocked didn’t mean I was upset. It was more of a surprising thing.”

What has been surprising is Betts’ production since assuming Portis’ starting spot against Tampa Bay in Week 10. The first game was a struggle — seven carries for 18 yards. But since then, no defense has been able to contain Betts.

In the last five games, Betts has carried 136 times for 678 yards and three touchdowns. Portis finished last season with five consecutive 100-yard games (130 carries, 573 yards) and Rob Goode also had a five-game streak in 1951 (106 carries, 571 yards).

“Ladell has never lacked for confidence in what he could do. He’s lacked an opportunity to demonstrate what he can do,” associate head coach Al Saunders said. “This is what we expect from that position in this offense. When we start the year, we expected our running back to generate 2,000 yards off running and catching the football.”

Betts enters the season finale Saturday against the New York Giants with 1,455 rushing and receiving yards, including 792 yards in the last five games.

Betts entered the season with two career 100-yard games and two games of more than 20 carries. In the past five games, he has averaged 27.2 carries a game.

“I’m certainly not surprised with his consistency,” Saunders said. “I was on record in training camp saying that I thought he was a quality player and if given the chance, would be very successful because he’s a three-dimensional player — he runs it, he catches it and his blocking has improved.”

Saunders said Betts’ greatest strength is being disciplined in following his blocks.

“He puts the ball in the right place for what’s being blocked,” he said. “That’s the most consistent thing about him. He doesn’t predetermine his cutback lanes and doesn’t predetermine what’s going to happen.

“The next step for him is to make guys miss in the open field and turn some of those 10-yard runs into 25-yard runs. He probably hasn’t made the last guy miss as much as he would have liked, but he will down the road.”

Down the road, the Redskins could have a good problem — a healthy Portis and an established Betts. But that will play out next season. For now, Betts is running like he did his final two years at Iowa, when he finished strong in 2000 and 2001 with a combined six 100-yard games in the final month of the season.

“I feel like I did back then as far as being able to get into a rhythm and building my confidence,” he said. “I’m just attacking the holes. The more successful a running game is, the more confidence the offensive line gets and the bigger the holes.”

Betts has used those openings to record 27 rushes of 10 or more yards during the five-game streak. And in his fifth NFL season, he has been able to carve out an identity, one that says he’s far more than a kick returner and reserve running back.

“I think I found my niche a long time ago, but this is the [biggest] opportunity I’ve had,” he said. “Luckily, I prepared myself for this and we’ve been off and running.”

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