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Position Paper: Running Back

Position Paper: Running Back

The first of an occasional series about what the Redskins might do and what they should do to address personnel issues.

The Redskins were #8 in the NFL in rushing yardage in 2008. Clearly that was the strength of the offense as the passing game ranked #23. And the strength of the running game was Clinton Portis, who carried 342 times for 1,487 yards.

Portis didn't get much help. Ladell Betts carried 61 times for 206 yards. And that is an issue that the Redskins need to address this offseason.

The two NFC playoff teams who had this past weekend off, the Giants and the Panthers, had two running backs share the load. In Carolina, DeAngelo Williams rushed 273 times for 1,515 yards and rookie Jonathan Stewart got 184 carries for 836. In New York, Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward both gained over 1,000 yards with 219 and 182 carries respectively.

Even the NFL's leading rusher, Adrian "All Day" Peterson, got more help than did Portis. Chester Taylor kicked in 101 carries as his backup.

I can find other examples but simple logic tells you that the two-headed approach is the way to go. The fact that Portis clearly wore down as the season wore on makes the proposition that the Redskins need to reduce his workload a no-brainer.

Betts was supposed to provide the relief for Portis but despite the fact that Portis was slowing down and was a game time decision on several occasions due to a variety of ailments, Betts got fewer than four carries per game. Betts did miss three games with an injury of his own, but that's still a pretty light workload.

The Redskins need to move about 50 carries away from Portis and to someone else. If that someone else is Betts, fine. If for whatever reason Jim Zorn doesn't trust Betts to get it done, they either need to expend a late draft pick on a running back or find an inexpensive veteran to fill the role.

Those of you who are thinking that the Redskins should think about moving Portis before his performance falls off the edge of the earth need to think again. Even if it was a good idea viewed in isolation—and it's not—the cap hit that the Redskins would take for releasing or trading him would be monstrous, as in eight figures. It's not even an option.

Rock Cartwright is the third running back and he contributes virtually nothing there. He carried five times last year and 12 the past three seasons combined. He is, however, invaluable on special teams. Rock will be here in '09 but he really doesn't have a spot on the running back depth chart. Perhaps they could find a different roster designation for him and carry another running back who has the potential to get some carries. That was the thought process with Marcus Mason last August but the Redskins decided to release him and keep 10 defensive linemen.

Portis needs to continue to be the bell cow. But something south of 300 carries in 2009 would help him be more productive in December. The team needs to identify a back who can share the load, whether it's Betts or someone not currently on the roster and be determined to give him enough work to make a difference.

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How playing at Alabama may have actually hurt Jonathan Allen's draft stock

How playing at Alabama may have actually hurt Jonathan Allen's draft stock

For the past few seasons, Jonathan Allen was a stud at the heart of Alabama's defense. He was far from the only stud, however, and that might be another factor in why he slipped to the Redskins at pick No. 17 on Thursday night.

The chief concern about Allen is the health of his shoulders, but there's also the question of how he'll do when he's no longer with Nick Saban's star-laden unit. It's easy to succeed when you're a part of a loaded ensemble cast, the thinking might've gone when it came to Allen, but how will you do on your solo project?

In addition to Allen, the Crimson Tide featured Marlon Humphrey (who went 16th to the Ravens), Reuben Foster (who went 31st to the 49ers) and others, like Tim Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson and Ryan Anderson, all of whom could go in Friday's second and third rounds. Together, that's a tremendous defense, but in the NFL, they'll be striking out on their own.

MORE REDSKINS: NORMAN, COUSINS, OTHERS WELCOME ALLEN TO D.C.

That's another possible explanation for why the Redskins were able to nab what was almost a consensus top-five prospect so late in the event.

"He's a really talented pass rusher but he's always been surrounded by enough talent that it's been hard for offenses to game plan their protection for him," one NFC director of player personnel told NFL.com.

Now, it's not like Allen is joining a bunch of nobodies in Washington. Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Zach Brown will also be lining up with him in Greg Manusky's front-seven. Oh, and Allen is no slouch either — the list of his strengths in this particular scouting report contains words like "superior," "proficient," "consistent" and "excellent."

But it is probably fair to say that, comparatively speaking, the rookie won't be amongst as many skilled guys as he was in college. By rushing to the podium to snag him, however, the Redskins clearly expect him to handle the NFL transition just fine.

RELATED: REDSKINS REPORTEDLY LOOKING TO TRADE ONE OF THEIR OWN    

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Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon could be out of reach for Redskins per oddsmakers

Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon could be out of reach for Redskins per oddsmakers

Florida State running back Dalvin Cook visited Redskins Park earlier this month. The Redskins did their homework on Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon in advance of the draft.

All of that pre-draft work might not matter though as Cook and Mixon will be off the board before the Redskins pick in the second round. At least according to oddsmakers.

Bovada.lv set over/under scenarios for both players. Cook lands at 38.5 and Mixon landed at 42.5.

[Related: Top end talent still available for Redskins in second round, but red flags remain]

Certainly both guys can go past the numbers established by the oddsmakers, but there's a reason drinks are free in Las Vegas. Oddsmakers tend to be very, very close when they set lines.

Considering that, if Washington wants either player, the team would likely have to trade up.

Much speculation has Cook the first player off the board to the Packers with the 33rd pick. It seems like a good fit.

[Related: Casserly says that Jonathan Allen is a more talented player than Solomon Thomas]

Mixon is more interesting. His loathsome action a few years back that was caught on video will continue to haunt him, but he will get drafted in the second round. He has the talent.

Bruce Allen has the capital to make a move. The team has nine more picks in the next six rounds. There's also the report that the team is shopping third-year pro Matt Jones.

Could a package of Jones and a late round pick entice a trade? It could.

Much like Thursday night, there will be plenty to watch Friday night.

More Redskins: Need to know: Five possible second and third round picks for the Redskins