- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 22, 2009

This year, Ladell Betts opted for a staycation - though he wasn’t exactly taking it easy.

While many of his Washington Redskins teammates headed to far-flung vacation spots when organized team activities ended in mid-June, Betts stuck around Northern Virginia to get in some extra work.

He embarked on a rigorous strength program under the supervision of ex-teammate Eddie Mason, pushing himself through seven weeks of work until the start of training camp.

“Ladell works his butt off, and he came to me looking for a jolt,” Mason said.

Betts figured he needed a spark. He had played in 42 straight games at running back for the Redskins when he sprained a knee in October. He missed a month and never really got back into a groove.

Betts managed just 50 yards in seven games after his return from the injury - a major decline in performance for a player who two seasons earlier tied a franchise record with five straight 100-yard games while he started in place of the injured Clinton Portis.

In anticipation of his impending 30th birthday - he hits that milestone Thursday - Betts settled on the new offseason approach.

The payoff for all the extra work wasn’t immediately apparent in the Redskins’ preseason-opening loss to Baltimore - Betts managed just 7 yards on four carries and one catch for 12 yards. But Betts said he believes Mason’s program made a difference, especially because his friend knows how hard two-a-days can be on the body and the mind.

“Eddie played this game, and everything he does is about trying to help you be a better football player,” Betts said as he prepared for Saturday’s preseason home opener against Pittsburgh. “It was tough. There were days where you didn’t feel like going in and doing it, but you know it’s going to benefit you. My cardio is where it needs to be, and my muscles held up well in camp.”

Mason, who also has worked with Redskins tight end Mike Sellers, running back Rock Cartwright and defensive tackle Kedric Golston, stresses such cross-training as boxing and martial arts at MASE Training in Sterling, Va., which he founded in 2003 with recently retired Redskins receiver James Thrash.

“Our program is based on explosive movement, quickness and agility,” said Mason, who played seven NFL seasons. “I took something from every strength coach I worked with and put together my own system specific to each client. Football is push and pull. Martial arts is the same. It can get a little boring always pulling sleds, lifting and running, and your body gets used to it.

“Ladell’s an extremely gifted running back. He’s tough, a bull. My objective was to improve his strength, his explosion and his quickness.”

Betts averaged a career-low five touches last season, his first under coach Jim Zorn, who rarely could bring himself to take Portis out of a game.

“After last year, I felt like I had to come out here and prove myself all over again,” Betts said. “I don’t feel like I’m 30. I’m hungry. I want to play.”

Zorn and running backs coach Stump Mitchell said they want to use Betts more this year, especially on third downs, but whether that actually happens is very much a question.

“I don’t know if it will be different, but I know I need to be very conscientious about how much I use Clinton ‘cause I gotta have [him] the whole year,” Zorn said. “I cringe every time I think, ‘I gotta take Clinton off the field,’ because he is a threat.”

But Betts said he doesn’t regret re-signing for a five-year, $11 million deal in December 2006, when his value was at its zenith and free agency was less than three months away.

“Not at all,” Betts said when asked if he wonders whether he would be an established starter for another team now. “I don’t really live with what-ifs. I just keep doing what I’m doing. What would have happened if I had chose not to and blew my knee out the next week?

“Then I would be sitting there like, ‘Man, I had the opportunity to take the money.’ Last summer I really wasn’t designated in a third-down type of role. This year, they tried to give me a role going into the season, and we’ll go from there. I’m just trying to work my role on third downs right now. Everything else is a bonus.”

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