- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 8, 2003

When Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier said at the end of last weekend’s minicamp that the club wouldn’t be able to keep all four running backs currently on the roster come September, speculation immediately centered on Kenny Watson becoming the odd man out.After all, the Redskins didn’t acquire Trung Canidate and Chad Morton this offseason to have them sit on the bench. And of the team’s two returning running backs, Ladell Betts, last year’s second-round draft choice, seemed to have an edge over Watson, an undrafted free agent in 2001.Don’t be so sure of that. Watson has many supporters within the organization, and there is growing reason to believe the Redskins could actually keep all four running backs on their active roster — with carries spread among them — when the season begins.Throughout minicamp and this week’s coaching sessions, Canidate has seen the most playing time with the first-teamers. That comes as little surprise; the Redskins have been raving about Canidate’s potential since acquiring him from St. Louis for guard David Loverne and a fourth-round draft pick.But the 26-year-old Canidate — while possessing blazing speed and a world of potential — is anything but a proven NFL back. In three seasons as a pro, he has a total of 98 rushes for 495 yards and six touchdowns. Last season, he carried the ball only 17 times for 48 yards, and there are those within the organization who are unconvinced about his reliability.For that reason, Canidate, Betts, Watson and Morton all figure to be given a chance in training camp to prove their worth.”We pretty much give everyone opportunities around here,” Spurrier said this week. “Obviously, somebody’s got to start first, so Trung’s in there first. But we’ve got a lot of preseason games, a lot of ball to play, so we’ll see how it works out.”If anything, Watson actually may be the most proven of all of Washington’s running backs. He appeared in all 16 games last season, starting four, and ran for more yards (534) than Canidate has in his three-year career.Watson, an unheralded player even during his days at Penn State, also returned 23 kickoffs at a 21.6-yard average, and is seen as a valuable member of the Redskins’ special teams.”I think I fit in pretty good,” Watson said. “I can catch out of the backfield. I block well. I think those are the two main components that you need to have in this offense.”But that’s up to the coaches, what backs they need and what they don’t need. I leave that up to them. I just try to make myself the best player that I can.”At 5-foot-10 and 221 pounds, Betts is more of a prototypical running back than Watson, and he may ultimately prove to be the best of the bunch. In 11 games played last season, he ran 65 times for 307 yards (a team-best 4.7-yard average) and, like Watson, returned kickoffs.Morton, meanwhile, was one of the most talked about players at Redskin Park last weekend after showcasing his skills as a dangerous third-down back. The former New York Jet finally may get his chance to line up in the backfield on a regular basis, but his first responsibility will be as Washington’s primary kick and punt returner.Morton’s versatility, though, could actually make it possible for the Redskins to keep all four running backs. NFL teams traditionally carry three tailbacks on their roster. Since Morton will be labeled more as a return man than a running back, Washington might be able to justify keeping the other three as well.And unless someone among the group distinguishes himself as a go-to guy who can carry the ball 25 or 30 times a game in the mold of Stephen Davis, Spurrier might find himself spreading the ball around his entire complement of running backs.”It’s a proven fact that if a back can carry 20 or more times, he seems to become stronger and becomes a better runner,” Spurrier said. “[But] if we have a lot of players with very similar ability, there’s a good chance that we will play several players.”We don’t know yet. If it turns out that way, then we will certainly try to utilize the ability of all our players the best we can. If they are very close, then that’s when you do play two tailbacks.”Or, in the Redskins’ case, perhaps four.Notes — Washington signed fullback Thad Buttone and invited him to participate in training camp for the third straight season. To make room on their roster for Buttone, who has never made the regular-season roster, the Redskins released fullback Preston Hartfield, an undrafted free agent from Texas Tech.

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