- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 10, 2002

The end is near, and Stephen Davis knows it.
The role of the Washington Redskins running back has steadily diminished this season in the pass-first-and-often attack of new coach Steve Spurrier. Now, Davis, the team's most productive offensive player in recent seasons, seems resigned to playing elsewhere after this most disappointing year.
"I get frustrated, but as far as anger and blowing up at people, that's not me," Davis said yesterday. "It's hard. I've been here seven years. Just to see something like this could happen hurts me to my heart. But this is part of the business. I can't dwell on it. I just have to move on. That's the NFL: not for long."
Davis expected to be used less in Spurrier's pass-oriented attack, but he didn't expect to become almost an afterthought. Davis led the NFL with a Redskins-record 356 carries last season but has just 205 with three games to go. He missed two games this season because of a knee injury.
Spurrier's predecessors, Norv Turner, Terry Robiskie and Marty Schottenheimer, thrived when they gave Davis the ball: The trio posted a collective 21-8 record when Davis carried at least 20 times in a game. Spurrier is 2-1 when he followed suit and 2-7 when he hasn't.
Schottenheimer learned that lesson last season, going 0-4 without relying on Davis and 8-4 with Davis as the offense's focal point.
This season has been especially frustrating for Davis. The Redskins rank 16th in rushing but just 22nd in passing using a rookie quarterback and what Spurrier has characterized as "cheap and available" veterans throwing the ball. Sunday, with Washington facing elimination from the playoff race, Davis carried just 12 times, equaling his lowest total in more than three years.
"If we were running for 6, 7 yards a pop, we'd keep doing it," Spurrier said, apparently dissatisfied with Davis' 3.9 yards-per-carry average. "But we haven't been doing it all that well. We're trying to do whatever it takes to win the game."
To put things in perspective, the NFL's three leading rushers Priest Holmes of Kansas City, LaDainian Tomlinson of San Diego and Ricky Williams of Miami average 4.9, 4.5 and 4.6 yards, respectively. The NFL record for yards per carry is 5.7 by the 1963 Cleveland Browns and immortal runner Jim Brown.
"Most [top backs] don't want to be in an offense that throws as much as coach Spurrier does," said the 28-year-old Davis. "I'm under contract. If it gets worked out, it gets worked out. If it don't, it don't and I move on and try to help another team win. If it don't work out, there are a lot of teams that need a running back."
If the Redskins keep Davis next season he will cost the team at total of $11.4million in salary cap money, an amount the Redskins cannot afford to pay. The Redskins will be forced to renegotiate his contract or cut him, which seems the most likely option.
Davis said he doesn't want his contract situation to drag on through the offseason. It likely won't.
If the Redskins cut Davis by the March4 start of free agency, they can save $5.2million from the 2003 salary cap. That would give the team the $4.5million they need in order to designate offensive tackle Jon Jansen the team's transition player and give a lucrative new contract to defensive tackle Daryl Gardener.
Sources close to Gardener, who signed with the Redskins on July30 and has performed above expectations, have said that Gardener has told the club he wants to re-sign without testing the free-agent market.
Davis, who admitted he hasn't understood his role in Spurrier's Fun 'n' Gun offense, said he expects to see the ball even less in the final three games as the coach gives more carries to second-round draft choice Ladell Betts and Kenny Watson.
Betts ran only once against the Giants and Watson just twice as Spurrier called 52 passes and 20 runs. Only in the one-sided losses to the New Orleans Saints and Jacksonville Jaguars was the pass-run imbalance so pronounced.
Asked if he was comfortable with Sunday's pass-run ratio, Spurrier said, "I was just uncomfortable with the final score. I was hoping Ladell would get more carries than it worked out," Spurrier said. "We'll try again this week. Ladell needs a lot more chances. He hasn't had much opportunity yet to show what he can do. We'll try to utilize all of them."
Davis said he can't argue with a system that worked so well on the college level even though the Redskins are on the verge of their first losing season since he became their feature back.
"Coach said [last] week that he would play some of the young guys and that's what he did," Davis said. "But I'm going to practice like I'm going to play a full game and when I'm in there I have to play the best I can and not worry about anything going on around me. It's [Spurriers] first year and he's doing the best he can. He's been doing something for a very long time his way and you can't knock him for that. It's won a lot of games for him."
Just not in the NFL.

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