Redskins' Betts receiving more attention, carries with Portis hurt

ASHBURN, Va. -- Clinton Portis can take his time coming back from his concussion. "El Boogie" has everything under control.

El Boogie? That's a nickname Ladell Betts has gone by since high school. It's a play on his initials, but Betts doesn't remember who gave it to him.

A flashier running back might have found a way to market it -- maybe a Web site or T-shirts -- but that's not Betts' style. In a way, he's the perfect second fiddle to the flamboyant Portis, choosing to stay in the shadows, waiting for his every-now-and-then chance to make plays.

On Wednesday, Betts was in high demand. Portis was seeing a doctor in the city, is unlikely to play again this week and might be on the downside of his career after the wear and tear of more 2,000 NFL carries.

Betts, meanwhile, was stopped at least four times because of media requests as he made his way to his locker, where another large gathering of cameras and notepads awaited.

"I used to be able to walk by without saying a word," Betts said. "But now I've got to speak."

The Redskins' running game was a mess when Portis went down after a helmet-to-helmet hit during the first quarter at Atlanta a week and a half ago. Since then, it has been an efficient engine.

Betts finished the Falcons game and had 70 yards on 15 carries. On Sunday, in his first start since 2006, he played with a sprained ankle and produced 114 yards on 26 carries -- better numbers than Portis has put up in any game since last November -- as the Redskins (3-6) broke a four-game losing streak with a 27-17 victory over the Denver Broncos.

Betts is all but certain to have at least one more chance as the starter when the Redskinsvisit the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

"It could be more than one more," Redskins offensive coordinator Sherman Smith. "He just needs to keep doing what he's doing. He's doing his job. He's showing 'When you call on me, I'll get it done.'"

Betts' productivity has stoked the debate over whether the Redskins have the wrong player as their No. 1 running back. It's a familiar discussion.

In 2006, when Portis was lost for the season with hand and shoulder injuries, Betts stepped in and had five consecutive 100-yard games. He finished the year with 1,154 yards on just 245 carries. Even though he was about to become a free agent -- giving him a chance to land a starting job elsewhere -- Betts stuck with the Redskins and signed a five-year, $11 million contract extension.

"He must really like it here," Smith said. "Not many guys do that. Particularly with the year he was having."

Betts believed he would receive more work as Portis' backup after signing the deal, but he had just 93 carries in 2007 and 61 last year. He says he doesn't regret the decision or spend much time thinking what might have been.

That said, Betts is clearly excited about having a regular chance to carry the ball again.

"It is a different mind-set," Betts said. "I do approach it that way. It's not really like a third-down situation for me like I've been doing most of the year. It'll be a first-through-fourth down, so I'll be the man, so to speak."

Redskins coach Jim Zorn says a player shouldn't lose a job because of a concussion and that Portis will regain the starting job when healthy. For now, that's a moot point.

Zorn said Wednesday that Portis is "very doubtful" for the Dallas game. Portis is still experiencing blurry vision, according to the coach, and needs to be symptom-free for 24 hours and then receive medical clearance and go through a practice before playing.

Since his injury, Portis' only public comments have come on his weekly radio appearance. He said he'll be more than happy to share the load with Betts in the future, especially if it's helping the team win.

"But as far as me losing my starting position," Portis added, "I doubt that."

Historically, even the great running backs reach the point where their production takes a steep dive. Portis is just 28, but he has more carries than any running back except LaDainian Tomlinson and Jamal Lewis since entering the league in 2002. This year, Portis has sustained multiple nagging leg injuries that have kept him from practicing, and he has just one 100-yard game and scored only one touchdown.

Betts actually is older than Portis by two years, but fresher legs are more important than age in this case. Yet when asked about the possibility of a running back controversy, Betts didn't take the bait. After all, it's not his style.

"It is a compliment, but at the same time I understand my role on this team and what I've been brought here to do," Betts said. "So I let the chips fall where they may. That's the coach's stuff. I expect CP to come back hopefully healthy and ready to roll."

Notes: Zorn said DT Albert Haynesworth (sprained ankle) will be a "weekend decision." ... CB Carlos Rogers, benched after giving up a long pass during the first quarter against the Broncos, was back working with the first-team defense at practice. "I made a mistake, it happened, and whatever the consequences are, I have to deal with it," Rogers said. "If that's not playing, then I'm there to support the team. I don't think I'll be strictly benched -- maybe I'll come off the bench. I'm not saying that's the case. I don't know right now." Zorn said he was happy with Rogers' attitude. "He wasn't pouting at all," the coach said. ... Punter Hunter Smith, who threw the touchdown pass on a fake field goal that turned the momentum against the Broncos, was chosen as the NFC special teams player of the week.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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