I like what Mike Shanahan is doing in Washington right now—because he is engineering competition at the running back position.
Earlier this off-season, Shanahan added former Chiefs and Bengals running back Larry Johnson. Yesterday, the ‘Skins signed former Steeler Willie Parker to a one-year deal that reportedly will max out at $3.1 million dollars.
The overall impact of both Johnson and Parker at this stage of their career is up for debate, and I even questioned the L.J. move previously because I don’t see how his running style fits in the Shanahan scheme. With Parker, we will have to see what he can offer this summer when he puts the pads on, but there are doubts about his game as well.
However, the effect these two will have once Washington opens training camp is the real story here. This isn’t about schemes or game plans. Instead, it is about straight competition for playing time.
And, it is time for Clinton Portis to compete for his job–which is a first in Washington.
Portis has had the luxury of always being considered the franchise back in D.C. under both Joe Gibbs and Jim Zorn. Miss time with an injury? Didn’t matter, because his spot in that backfield was gold—and always open for his return.
I expect that to change this August when the Redskins start camp. Whenever a new coach comes into town, he will teach and expect to see competition at every position. We will see the same thing in Seattle with Pete Carroll. Jobs will be won or lost in August during practice and on those hot summer nights in the preseason games.
Looking at Portis, Johnson and Parker, it is obvious that the ‘Skins won’t carry all three backs on their regular season roster, and more than likely, one of these three will be cut in September. Shanahan will have to take into account special teams, and on every NFL roster, there is a back that mainly plays on the kicking units. That doesn’t exist in this group.
Instead, there is a real race to see not only who starts and who takes the majority of the handoffs in September, but more importantly, who has a locker come the start of the regular season.
This is good for Portis. He needs to be pushed for playing time and he needs to see what it is like to fight for carries. He missed a lot of time in the 2009 season, and hasn’t been that explosive one-cut runner we saw earlier in his career under Gibbs. He will have to be accountable—every day—and he will have to stay healthy.
But, this is how it should be for Portis. Those days when he was the unquestioned No.1 in the Washington backfield are gone. And, it is time for him to fight for playing time like the rest of the roster does every August.
And, we get to see how the big-money running back responds on the field.
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