- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Let’s do the math.

Clinton Portis carried the ball 352 times for the Redskins last season — and caught 30 passes to boot.

Ladell Betts had 99 (how I love this term) touches.

Santana Moss had 84 receptions.

Chris Cooley had 71.

Rock Cartwright, David Patten and Mike Sellers, meanwhile, were all thrown their respective crumbs.

And now the offense has added the hungry hands of Brandon Lloyd (48 catches last year with the 49ers) and Antwaan Randle El (35 with the Steelers). Plus, there’s an impressive rookie wideout in camp named Mike Espy who, well, seems destined to win an ESPY.

According to my calculations, the Redskins will have to run 125 offensive plays a game — and control the ball an average of 59 minutes, 42 seconds — to keep everyone happy. Which raises the question: Why do they even have a punter in camp anyway?

Oh, wait, now I remember: Because John Hall, who has yet to master the art of dropkicking, needs a holder.

It was so much simpler last season. The game plan just about every week was Portis, Moss, Cooley — and pray for I-Don’t-Know-Who-ley. At one point, Joe Gibbs was so strapped for options he was lining up Sean Taylor at receiver. If the offensive cupboard hadn’t been so bare, there’s no telling how deep into the playoffs the Redskins would have gone.

But they certainly addressed that problem in the offseason, didn’t they? Suddenly they’re four-deep at receiver, and that doesn’t even include utilityman James Thrash. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if the offense leads the league in delay of game penalties — because Mark Brunell and Co. get bogged down drawing straws in the huddle.

So far, though, it’s all peace and harmony. “Competition doesn’t bother me,” Moss says. “I’m used to it. I’ve had competition every year since Pop Warner.”

To which Lloyd adds, “It feels good to have a handful of established players [vying for playing time]. Gives me confidence. In San Francisco, we all knew we didn’t have a chance [most Sundays] unless somebody did something spectacular or we played a perfect game.”

When the real games start, though, one of new offensive boss Al Saunders’ biggest challenges will be to Leave No Playmaker Behind — while, at the same time, maximizing the unit’s production. The latter is, of course, the main objective. Joe Gibbs’ heart can’t take another start to the season like last year’s, can’t take a month of scores like 9-7, 14-13, 20-17 and 21-19.

Thus, the club has loaded up on wideouts, operating on the assumption that, given the casualty rate in pro football, you can never have too much of anything. It was always like this for Gibbs in the pre-salary cap days. Sharing the load with Art Monk were Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders. Complementing John Riggins were Joe Washington and later George Rogers. (After which you had the Rogers/Kelvin Bryant/Timmy Smith triumvirate and the duos of Gerald Riggs/Earnest Byner and Byner/Ricky Ervins.)

“It’s kind of like coaching an NBA basketball team,” Saunders says. “You’ve gotta give everyone their touches. But this offense has always been pretty good at spreading the ball around. The personnel here is probably closer to what I had in St. Louis [with Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, Ricky Proehl and Az Hakim]. There are four wide receivers with some special skills.”

It has taken Coach Joe, in his Second Coming, three years to build this kind of depth. Without it, it’s hard to contend for a title. Still, it can be tricky keeping all those egos massaged. The 1980s Redskins might not have had any receivers shriek, “Just give me the darn ball,” but one or two might have beseeched Gibbs to “toss me the blessed pigskin, pretty please.”

Legend has it that whenever Clark felt he wasn’t getting enough action, he’d sit with his back to Gibbs during the team meeting the next day. Wouldn’t even look at him. (And at the first free-agent opportunity, let’s not forget, Gary signed with the Cardinals, with whom he could be the unquestioned Go-To Guy.) Somehow, Coach Joe and his quarterbacks made it all work. One year (1989), Monk caught 86 passes, Sanders 80 and Clark 79 — all for about the same number of yards. Try that sometime.

As coaches say, it’s a nice problem to have … as long as there isn’t a Terrell Owens in the locker room. And it’s definitely a welcome switch for the Redskins, who have been touchdown-challenged of late. Last year they wondered who was going to be their No. 2 wideout; now it’s going to be hard to limit themselves to 11 men at a time.

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