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Running Rock: Cartwright is finally Redskins' starting back

ASHBURN, Va. -- Rock Cartwright was steamed, and he wasn't bashful about making his feelings known.

When the Washington Redskins set their roster for the regular season in September, Cartwright saw three running backs ahead of him. He felt dissed because he was regarded only as a special teams player, despite his seven loyal years of service to the franchise.

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"As far as getting toyed with, I think I have," Cartwright said at the time.

Well, that seems like a long time ago. Eleven weeks later, the Redskins not only think of Cartwright as a running back -- he's now their starter.

With Clinton Portis sidelined indefinitely with a concussion and Ladell Betts out for the season with a knee injury, Cartwright will make his first start since 2003 and only the fourth in his NFL career when the Redskins visit the Philadelphia Eagles this week.

"I prepared myself for this a long time ago," Cartwright said, "and that opportunity presents itself, and I'm trying to make the best of it."

It can be argued that no one has gotten more from less than Cartwright. Just 5-foot-8, he was a seventh-round draft pick from Kansas State as a fullback in 2002. He might have been dreaming of 1,000-yard seasons, but he hasn't even rushed for 1,000 yards in his career. He does have one 100-yard game, a 118-yard effort when both he and Portis went over the century mark against St. Louis in 2005.

Meanwhile, he's made his living as a versatile special teams player, taking any dirty job available. He became the Redskins' regular kickoff returner in 2006 and has put up decent numbers. He was elected a special teams captain last year, and he's among the few players always willing to speak to reporters, even when the team is struggling.

But, in Cartwright's mind, he's always been a running back. Playing behind Portis and Betts was one thing, but it irked him to no end when the team also kept Marcus Mason on the roster for this year's season opener. For the first time, Cartwright sounded like a locker room malcontent.

"It was crazy," Cartwright said this week. "I said some things early on in the season that I was just speaking out of emotion,"

Mason was cut last month, and the extra running back spot became a revolving door. Thus, when Betts blew out his knee Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, Cartwright got the call and ran 13 times for 67 yards and caught seven passes for 73 yards in a 7-6 loss.

Ironically, Mason was re-signed this week to restore some depth to the depleted position -- but he's now Cartwright's backup.

"The thing that is great about Rock is he hung in there," coach Jim Zorn said Wednesday. "He said his piece. He felt a certain way, yet he wasn't disgruntled and tried to split himself away from the team or tell everybody 'I'm done with this group.' He hung in there. That's what a captain does.

"Unfortunately for us it's working out for him, and fortunately for us it is working out for him to run the ball. It's a mixed bag, but he's going to make the most of it, and he's going to show everybody, 'See? This is what I've been telling everybody all along.'"

NOTES: The Redskins signed QB Richard Bartel from Jacksonville's practice squad. He will be the third-stringer behind Jason Campbell and Todd Collins. ... The Redskins also signed FB Jonathan Evans to the practice squad and released QB Andre Woodson from the practice squad. ... DT Albert Haynesworth (ankle), CB DeAngelo Hall (knee) and TE Todd Yoder (foot) were among the players sitting out practice.

Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press

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