- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 31, 2008

Through Steve Spurrier and Joe Gibbs, Patrick Ramsey and Mark Brunell, Rod Gardner and Laveranues Coles and myriad play-callers, it’s easier to document what Ladell Betts hasn’t seen during his first six seasons with the Washington Redskins than what he has.

“Pretty much,” Betts said. “I think I have seen it all. I’ve been here through a couple of coaches and now with this new Coach [Jim] Zorn era, we’ll see where this takes us.”

Of particular interest this training camp is where Zorn takes Betts. The way Betts’ role develops this season is yet another intriguing item for him to remember when looking back at his career.

In the Joe Gibbs regime, Clinton Portis had the luxury of removing himself from the game, allowing Betts occasionally to get double-digit carries even with Portis was healthy.

But with Zorn’s arrival, Portis no longer has that option, fueling speculation that Betts’ role will diminish from the 93 carries he had last season.

“I’m not worried about that because hopefully there will be situations where they get both of us in the game at the same time or maybe let me have own my series from time to time,” said Betts, who didn’t practice Wednesday because of a thigh bruise and tight quadriceps and is unlikely to play in Sunday night’s preseason opener. “I love to play, but I’m not necessarily worried about that.”

According to Zorn and running backs coach Stump Mitchell, Betts shouldn’t be concerned. Mitchell points to hot-weather games in September and the need for Portis to get a break. Zorn acknowledges Betts’ skill set (north-south runner, good pass blocker, decent route runner, reliable hands) and said it’s his job to get No. 46 on the field.

Last season, Betts carried 17 times in Week 1 but no more than nine times over the next 14 games. And he averaged less than two receptions a game. Portis led the NFL with 325 rushes.

“I see Ladell playing a lot and complementing what Clinton does, and I see us having the chance to play them both at the same time,” Zorn said. “I look at Ladell and Clinton as similar runners. Good zone runners, excellent pass blockers and guys who do a really nice job in pass patterns. We haven’t had that in my experience.”

Said Mitchell: “We’re going to give Ladell an opportunity to play. I think he’s pleased with this system and sees things in it that he can take advantage of.”

As assistants in Seattle, Zorn and Mitchell saw Shaun Alexander carry a combined 723 times in 2004-05 before breaking down. Backup Maurice Morris had 101 carries during that span. In Portis’ three healthy seasons (2004-05, 2007), Betts combined for 272 carries.

Betts had some great game film for the new coaches to watch this offseason. When Portis went down midway through the 2006 season, Betts finished the last six games with five 100-yard efforts, carrying 20 or more times each week. The result was a 1,154-yard season and a new contract.

“He always told me, ‘You give me 20 carries, I’ll get you 100 yards,’” running back Rock Cartwright said. “He backed up his word. If he gets the chance, he’ll do it again.”

That chance came last year, and when he got a series here or there, Betts struggled. His average dropped from 4.7 to 3.6 yards a carry. Of his 93 carries, 51 gained 3 or fewer yards and 14 lost yardage.

“I wouldn’t say I struggled [with the role], but I won’t make any excuses - that’s the job I’m paid to do,” he said.

Betts said he’s a measured runner, and that’s something Zorn, Mitchell and offensive coordinator Sherman Smith have to be aware of. Giving Betts one carry every third series won’t generate a lot of results. He needs a handful of attempts to get rolling.

“Sometimes it’s hard to come in for one run and then go out for 10 plays,” he said. “A couple back to back is what helps. If you get four, five carries in a row, that allows you to get into a rhythm.”

But as long as Portis stays healthy, Betts’ work could be more spotty than usual. It will be just another adjustment for Betts, who is tied with Cartwright for the fourth-longest continuous tenure on the Redskins behind only Jon Jansen, Chris Samuels and Ethan Albright.

“It feels like [dog years] at times, but I still feel young, feel good, feel fresh and feel my legs allow me to do what I have to do,” said Betts, who turns 29 on Aug. 27. “I’m enthusiastic about playing this year and a lot of years to come.”

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