- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 4, 2003

For his 26th birthday yesterday, Trung Canidate received a chocolate cake and a chance to breathe new life into his football career.

The giant cake adorned on top with his likeness was a nice gesture from the Washington Redskins, but Canidate was more excited about his newfound opportunity to become a starting running back in the NFL.

"That's a surprise; I didn't think anyone would know," Canidate said upon being presented with the cake at his introductory Redskins news conference. "But this is a birthday present for me, just coming out here and getting a good opportunity to get my career going in the right direction."

Acquired from the St. Louis Rams on Friday for guard David Loverne and a fourth-round draft pick, Canidate was perhaps Washington's most notable addition during last weekend's stunning shopping spree. Not for what he has done in the past but for what he is capable of doing in the future.

No one has doubted Canidate's potential since the Rams selected him No. 31 overall in the 2000 draft. An explosive runner who set all kinds of records at the University of Arizona, he seemed a natural for the NFL, especially on a St. Louis team that predicates its entire game around speed.

Unfortunately for Canidate, the Rams already had the best all-around running back in the league in Marshall Faulk. So while Faulk was busy racking up 100-yard rushing games and 100-yard receiving games seemingly on a weekly basis, Canidate could only stand on the sidelines, watch and wonder whether his chance would come.

"It definitely was frustrating, sitting back there and not being able to play," he said. "But I had the opportunity to learn from one of the best guys in the game."

Opportunities to learn from the master were plentiful. Opportunities to play were few and far between.

In three seasons with the Rams, Canidate started three games, though he certainly made the most of his first career start. On Oct. 21, 2001, with Faulk sidelined by a knee injury, Canidate shocked the New York Jets by rushing 23 times for 195 yards and two touchdowns the most prolific first NFL start by a running back since the Falcons' Gerald Riggs went for 202 yards in 1984.

Two weeks later, Canidate came off the bench to run for 145 yards on 16 carries, giving plenty of people Canidate included reason to believe his career was about to take off.

Since then, though, he's carried the ball all of 30 times for a total of 83 yards. And at some point last season Canidate is not sure exactly when or precisely why he fell into Rams coach Mike Martz's doghouse.

With Faulk still running circles around NFL defenders and rookie Lamar Gordon supplanting him as St. Louis' primary backup, Canidate wasn't surprised to find out last week he had been traded to Washington.

"I kind of had a feeling," he said. "Sometimes change is a pretty good thing. I'm ready to embrace this change. I feel real good about the opportunity that's in front of me."

So does Redskins coach Steve Spurrier, who envisions Canidate becoming one of the league's most dangerous running backs and an ideal fit for his Fun 'n' Gun offense.

"Sometimes you get behind a guy like Marshall Faulk, you don't get a lot of opportunities to set a lot of rushing records," Spurrier said. "But he's a young man with a lot of speed, the ability to go the distance every time he touches it. He's got that big-play potential, and we really feel he'll fit into our offense in a super way."

As it turns out, Canidate's first appearance at Redskin Park coincided with the final one of the man he's replacing. Stephen Davis, the franchise's third all-time leading rusher who was cut last week for salary cap purposes, stopped by one last time yesterday to pick up a paycheck and say a few goodbyes.

Davis, who spent about an hour at the complex, will meet with the Houston Texans today but had not scheduled any other visits at the time. His final appearance at Redskin Park was an emotional one, he said, though one he had been anticipating for some time.

"I knew it was going to happen, but the thing is, good things have got to end," Davis said. "Hopefully, I can start over and, wherever I end up, make the best of it and try to help somebody else win."

For his part, Canidate would love to establish himself much like Davis did over the last seven years as one of the organization's finest.

"I'm looking to get on the field and prove a lot of things, he said. "I want to prove to myself that I can get out here and play at a high level. I'm just elated to have the opportunity to do that."

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