Ladell Betts understands his role in the Redskins' offense. He comes in for third-down and goal-line packages, helps out in protection schemes and gives starter Clinton Portis a breather.
That role changed somewhat in last Sunday's game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a 16-7 loss that dropped the Redskins to 3-8 on the season. The 5-10, 222-pound back was featured more in the offensive game plan, particularly in the second half.
Betts finished with eight carries for 34 yards--including a key 26-yard run in the third quarter on the Redskins' only scoring drive of the game--and caught three passes for 35 yards. Portis logged six carries for 17 yards.
Head coach Joe Gibbs emphasized there was no particular design to how the carries were distributed during the game.
"What happened was Ladell was in there when several of the runs were called," Gibbs said. "Clinton got a stinger [injury] and that took him out for a series. But the last two weeks we did not get what we wanted out of the running game and we've been trying to throw the ball downfield because we're behind in the game."
Added Betts: "It just turned out that way. It wasn't something that was planned. It probably won't be that way the rest of the season. I expect Clinton to be in there."
This season, Betts has mostly received 2-3 carries each game. He has logged 35 carries for 130 yards and caught 12 passes for 86 yards. When Chad Morton was sidelined with a knee injury, Betts joined James Thrash as a kickoff return specialist.
Betts' role with the Redskins has changed each season since the team drafted him in the second round of the 2002 NFL Draft. Coincidentally, Portis was selected by Denver five spots ahead of Betts, who played his collegiate ball at Iowa.
In his rookie year, Betts served as Stephen Davis's understudy and earned playing time late in the season when Davis was sidelined due to injury. In a game against the Houston Texans, Betts had 20 carries for 116 yards and a touchdown.
In 2003, Betts went into the season expected to share the workload with Trung Canidate. He was productive in the season opener against the New York Jets, rushing 18 times for 77 yards. But he suffered a fractured left forearm in a Week 7 game at Buffalo and he never was able to regain his form the rest of the season.
This year, Betts' role was defined from the outset. The Redskins acquired Portis last offseason to become the team's franchise back.
Said Betts: "I understand my role and I'm not expecting anything. I go out in practice and compete every day as if I'm the No. 1 back, so when opportunities come my way, I try to take advantage of them.
After getting only a handful of carries in most games this season, Betts said his showing last Sunday elevated his confidence.
"It shows the coaches I can perform when they call on me," he said. "Like I said, Clinton is going to be in there. I know he'll get a lot of the carries and show why he's the No. 1 back."