It may be a foreign concept to fans of the Washington Redskins, who for the last few years knew they could count on Stephen Davis carrying the ball 20, 25 or 30 times a game.
But in their current state, the Redskins believe a running back-by-committee system is their best course of action. And given the generally positive vibes that came out of last Thursday’s season-opening win over the Jets, Washington has no plans to change its philosophy.
Trung Canidate will again start when the Redskins face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Ladell Betts will again come off the bench and share the workload as Washington attempts to maximize its production from a couple of talented-but-unproven backs.
“They have to complement each other,” offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said yesterday. “If one of them gets hot, then that guy will continue to carry the ball, and I think they understand that. But our rotation, how we go about it, nothing’s changed. We’re going to go out and play and let the chips fall where they may.”
There had been some speculation over the weekend that the Redskins might promote Betts to starter after the second-year tailback led the team with 18 carries for 77 yards in the 16-13 victory over New York. But the offensive coaching staff also liked what they saw from Canidate, even though the speedster got only 10 rushing attempts totaling 46 yards.
“We feel like they’re both really close in ability,” coach Steve Spurrier said. “Neither one really separated from the other during preseason, so we’ll use both of them.”
Each running back greeted the news with acceptance.
“I don’t have a problem with it,” said Betts, who ran for 307 yards and a team-best 4.7 average his rookie season. “I’m sure it’ll be similar to last week. Whoever has the feel of the game, they’ll leave him in there.”
Said Canidate, who was anointed the starter almost from the moment he was acquired from St. Louis in March: “We won, that’s the main thing. I didn’t have as many carries as I think I could have used, but we won. That’s the biggest thing to me.”
The Redskins didn’t follow a set plan for rotating the two backs during the Jets game. Canidate ran the first series, but Betts came on for the second. Betts got the bulk of carries in the second half, but Canidate had successive runs of 8, 9 and 7 yards late in the fourth quarter.
Expect more of the same on Sunday, with the two backs shuffling in and out based on the ebb and flow of the game.
“It’s a feel,” Jackson said. “You have a feel as a coach, you just kind of know what you need at a particular time. That’s one of my jobs, to make sure that the right guy is in there at the right time.”
Conventional wisdom says the Redskins should use the speedy Canidate when they want to spread the field and run the ball outside, then bring in Betts when they need someone to grind out a couple of key yards.
But the two running backs don’t entirely fit the profiles they’ve been tagged with over time. Canidate, despite his quickness and ability to produce big plays, has proved to the Redskins that he can run the ball inside as well.
“Most teams, when they prepare for Trung, are preparing for a speed guy who you would think we’d get the ball to on the edge all the time,” Jackson said. “But that’s not been the case. Trung has done a good job running between the tackles and demonstrating toughness.”
Betts, meanwhile, has been labeled as a plodding, physical running back, a 5-foot-10, 222-pound rock who lacks breakaway speed.
“I laugh when people do that, because Ladell is a lot quicker and faster than people think,” Jackson said. “He has as much ability to get on the edge of the defense as Trung does.”
Canidate and Betts are quick to compliment each other and aren’t questioning the club’s plan.
That said, each admits he would prefer to be the Redskins’ feature running back, getting a full 60 minutes worth of rushing attempts to display his full capabilities.
“No, I would like to start,” Betts said. “I’m sure he would like to start, too. But when I’m asked to do a job, that’s what I’ll do.”
“As a running back, you want to get your carries,” Canidate said. “If I can get some carries and get into a groove, things will happen.”