Friday, December 1, 2006

There was plenty of hoopla when T.J. Duckett was acquired from Atlanta by Washington on Aug. 23. With Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts both banged-up, the 6-foot, 254-pound Duckett was the big back the Redskins needed. Coach Joe Gibbs and Co. envisioned a repeat of the three-headed backfield of 1991 with Duckett playing the short-yardage specialist role filled during that Super Bowl championship season by another former Falcons player, Gerald Riggs.

Instead, even though Washington started 2-5, Duckett might as well have been on the practice squad. He played in just two of the first seven games and recorded all five of his carries in the one-sided Week 2 loss at Dallas. Duckett has become more involved since Portis was lost for the season three weeks ago in Philadelphia and Ladell Betts moved up to No. 1, but he still has just 19 carries for 90 yards and no touchdowns heading into tomorrow’s reunion with the Falcons.

Duckett’s lows during four seasons in Atlanta were 104 carries, 380 yards and four touchdowns. He had 16 scores on just 225 carries the past two years leading Falcons coach Jim Mora to call him “the hammer.”

But Duckett hasn’t complained about his near-inactivity in Washington. When asked how he has remained so positive, Duckett harkened back to his mother’s lost battle with breast cancer and said, “I could be working [in a less lucrative job], too. I do want to play a lot more. I do want a lot more carries, but it’s an honor to be in the NFL. After seeing all the suffering my mother went through, me not playing … I shouldn’t be moping or be depressed about the situation.”

Running backs coach Earnest Byner, the Redskins’ lead back in 1991, has been impressed with Duckett’s attitude.

“It really takes a quality person to handle his situation as well as T.J. has,” Byner said. “It shows a lot of maturity. The guy wants to be a starter in this league. He’s very hungry, but he’s also very humble.”

So it was no surprise that Duckett downplayed the prospect of showing the Falcons they made a mistake by dealing him in the three-way trade in which they acquired speed receiver Ashley Lelie from Denver. Rookie Jerious Norwood has been impressive with 411 yards on 68 carries as the new backup to scatback Warrick Dunn.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited about it, but at the same time, I still have to go out and play like it’s just another game,” Duckett said. “I’m not looking at it as a personal grudge, but I still live in Atlanta so I’d like to have some bragging rights in the offseason, be able to rub it in a little bit with the guys on the team.”

And while Duckett is eligible for unrestricted free agency in March, he said he hasn’t even thought about that prospect.

“After not playing a lot earlier this year, knowing I have the chance to contribute each Sunday, that’s all I’m thinking about now,” Duckett said.

No word on kickers

Gibbs has yet to decide whether to use kicker Shaun Suisham, signed to the practice squad on Tuesday, or Nick Novak, who has made just five of 10 field goal tries and hasn’t had any deep kickoffs since taking over for the injured John Hall’s six games ago. If the Redskins promote Suisham to the roster and make both kickers active, they likely would send receiver Mike Espy back to the practice squad or put receiver David Patten on injured reserve.

Patten, hospitalized for four days during training camp with viral meningitis, has just one catch this year while missing the last seven games with hamstring and thigh injuries. Patten, who was unable to run well yesterday, caught just 22 passes with a career-worst 9.9-yard average last year before a knee injury ended his season after nine games.

Vincent ailing

Safety Troy Vincent’s hamstring, which kept him out last Sunday at Carolina, hasn’t improved much. He likely won’t play tomorrow. Cornerbacks Shawn Springs (hamstring) and Kenny Wright (knee) returned to practice as did kick returner Rock Cartwright (thigh). Leading special teams tackler Khary Campbell (hamstring) didn’t practice again and won’t play.

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