Rock Cartwright’s tenure as the Washington Redskins’ starting running back lasted all of two games, and the eight-year veteran isn’t happy about his demotion.
The Redskins announced Wednesday that Quinton Ganther, who was signed off the street last month, would replace Cartwright for Sunday’s game at Oakland.
“Of course, anybody is disappointed when they get benched from being the starting running back and an opportunity you were waiting on for your entire career,” Cartwright said. “But when you run the ball in spurts - two carries here, three carries there - you can’t get hot. You guys can see it. The Dallas game, I got into a rhythm, and we started moving the ball.”
Cartwright ran for 67 yards on 13 carries against the Cowboys on Nov. 22 after Ladell Betts, making his second start in place of injured No. 1 back Clinton Portis, tore two knee ligaments in the first quarter. But Ganther outgained Cartwright 78-77 the past two weeks on just 13 carries - 15 fewer than Cartwright.
“I get a couple carries early and then not another one until the second half - what do they expect?” said Cartwright, who gained 20 yards on five carries during the first 5:57 on Sunday against New Orleans but wasn’t handed the ball again until the third quarter. “That’s crazy. But I don’t control it, I’m not worried about it and all I can do is go out and play special teams.”
Cartwright asked special teams coach Danny Smith to return him to full-time special teams duty now that he’s a backup on offense again.
As Cartwright, who hadn’t started since 2003, falls again, Ganther, who has survived into a fourth NFL season because of his special teams ability, rises. At 25, Ganther is a younger version of Cartwright. Ganther is 5-foot-9 and 214 pounds; Cartwright is 5-8 and 213 pounds. Both were seventh-round picks who played just two years at Division I schools.
“I’m getting the opportunity that I haven’t had to show people what I can do,” said Ganther, who signed Oct. 20, was cut Nov. 6 and re-signed Nov. 11. “I just worked harder than everybody. The longer you keep your foot in the door, the better opportunity you have, and my opportunity came.”
Ganther was a standout at Fairfield (Calif.) High School, a record-setter at Citrus (Calif.) Junior College and at Utah, where he ran for 1,120 yards and seven touchdowns with a 5.5-yard average as a senior.
Ganther was chosen in the seventh round of the 2006 draft by Tennessee. He had no carries in four games in his first two seasons, and he had just nine last year, when he averaged 4.7 yards a carry.
“I liked the maturity he had as a rookie,” said Redskins offensive coordinator Sherman Smith, then the Titans’ running backs coach. “He’s not the fastest guy in the world, but he runs hard. He learns well and doesn’t make mistakes, so he gives himself a chance to be successful.”
Ganther gave himself that chance by coming to understand his role.
“It took me two years to really understand how this game works,” Ganther said. “If you’re a low-round pick, you have to keep your foot in the door by playing special teams. Once I figured that out, I didn’t worry about playing running back anymore. I was just teams, teams, teams - and I became a great special teams player because of that.”
Smith and Ganther had stayed in touch after the coach moved to the Redskins in 2008, so when the running back recovered from a calf injury that had helped end his tenure in Tennessee, he got a call from the Redskins.
And now he’s getting the biggest call of his career.