- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 13, 2008

Although aware he could be without both players, Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn hopes at least one of his top two running backs will be available Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

Clinton Portis‘ sprained left knee kept him inside Redskin Park on Wednesday to receive treatment, but reserve Ladell Betts returned to practice a month after injuring the lateral collateral ligament and hamstring in his left leg.

The players’ status won’t be decided until the Redskins see how Betts responds to the full workout and how Portis feels before the game.

“Portis actually felt better [Wednesday], so hopefully he’ll continue to work in the training room. We’ll see how it goes on a daily basis, but I know it’s going to be a game-time decision - that’s pretty much a lock,” Zorn said. “[Betts’] burst wasn’t there yet, but the fact he was pushing off and making cuts was encouraging. I was impressed.”

Portis suffered a Grade 2 MCL sprain in the first quarter against Pittsburgh, an injury that generally requires a recovery time of two to four weeks. If Betts can play, the Redskins could be extra cautious and sit Portis.

Portis didn’t speak to reporters, but Betts said he felt good in doing limited work.

“It’s still up in the air whether I’ll be able to go or not,” he said. “I’m not 100 percent, but I’m getting there. There’s nothing I’m really limited in. It’s a matter of can I go full speed on game day and take the hits and take the pounding?”

Said Zorn: “We’re going to give him [Thursday] and Friday to let us get a feel for how he’s doing.”

Portis ranks second in the league in rushing yards (995) and yards a carry (5.0) and third in attempts (200). His absence also would create a huge void in the Redskins’ pass protection.

Portis straightened his leg Wednesday, and Zorn said he will wait as long as he can to make a decision.

“I can wait until game time for him,” Zorn said. “I should and I will. But if he doesn’t go until Sunday and that’s the first time he sees anything, I think that’s very difficult. … The key thing is to get where he can really burst, and right now we haven’t even tried it. We want to make sure that if he goes, he can go hard. It would be foolish for us to put him out there if he’s 60 to 70 percent.”

Of the possible scenarios, it appears a rusher-by-committee of Betts, Shaun Alexander and Rock Cartwright is most likely.

Even if Betts is active, Alexander probably needs to be ready. In three games, he has played only 14 snaps and carried 10 times, but he used the last month to round into football shape and learn the Redskins’ system.

“It does feel like I have played a preseason,” Alexander said. “In Seattle, I would play a little bit in the first game, a little in the second, a little less in the third and none in the fourth. And then we would play.”

Although the Seahawks and Redskins’ run games differ in some respects, teammates don’t expect to change the plan if Alexander has to carry the load.

“Shaun has been getting accustomed to how we block the plays,” right tackle Jon Jansen said. “We’ve got a certain way we work together up front and a certain way we block plays that’s worked well for us. I don’t have any question in my mind he’ll go in there and do well and have success.”

Some of the stretch-type plays to the outside used by the Redskins were a bedrock of Seattle’s run attack when Alexander gained more than 1,000 yards in five straight seasons.

“I think he’s starting to figure it out,” left guard Pete Kendall said. “It’s easy to say running the ball is running the ball, but there are nuances from one system to the next, and he’s beginning to find his way.”

Whether Alexander’s body is up to the task remains to be seen. Injuries limited him to 64 carries last year in Seattle.

“When you don’t go to training camp, you do have freshness about yourself,” former NFL running back Tiki Barber said. “But on the flip side, you miss getting those mechanics down and the minutiae of what it takes to make plays. For Shaun to come in and be effective right away is unrealistic. … But I think he has gas in the tank.”

The Redskins lost defensive starters Shawn Springs and Jason Taylor for significant parts of this season, but only Chris Samuels has missed a game among the offensive starters.

“Guys are going to get hurt playing this game,” Kendall said. “That’s the challenge in building a team - putting a team together that has enough depth to get you through 16 games.”

Staff writer Tim Lemke contributed to this article.

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