Can The Redskins Survive Without Portis?

Steve O Speak

Technically the only two running backs (healthy) on the Redskins roster right now weren’t on this team opening day. While Ryan Torain was with the Skins throughout training camp and preseason he was on the Practice Squad to start the season (yet is listed as number 1 on the depth chart). Backup Chad Simpson only action at FedEx Field this season, came in the first preseason game, when he was a member of the Buffalo Bills. Simpson was signed two weeks ago and has yet to see the field with the offense. Now it is in all likelihood that the Redskins resign Keiland Williams, the undrafted rookie free agent, who made the team out of camp. Williams was dropped after the Rams game, when he missed a crucial block that led to a blocked punt and Torain showed he deserved some touches. Even with Williams in the fold the Redskins running back situation is one of the worst in the league.

The Redskins running backs struggled so much last season they went out and added veterans Willie Parker and Larry Johnson, yet now Washington is in a worse position then before. Johnson and Parker were both busts, and the team missed out on either drafting a player or signing a veteran like Thomas Jones or L.T. Now the Redskins are (or at least should be) scrambling to find running back depth and already missed out on their first choice. Earlier this week the team signed Javarris James to their practice squad, only to have him signed by the Colts today to their active roster. While they signed Quinn Porter to fill the spot, he was released due to an injury at the start of the season by the Packers and is only signed to give some insight to the Packers offense whom the Skins play this week. One name that is interesting to fill his spot on the practice squad (or Keiland Williams when he is activated)  is undrafted rookie Shawnbrey McNeal. McNeal would be a guy that I think would be even potentially deserving of a roster spot, but since he was waived from the Falcons practice squad, the Redskins can sign him to their own. He is a small, fast compact back, that would offer a much different skill set than what we currently have on the roster. And we could test him out for a week or two on the practice squad (obviously another team could sign him to their regular roster in that time) but is a solid low risk-high reward move.

In addition the Redskins need to seriously consider whether they feel comfortable with just Torain, Williams and Simpson on the active roster and a running back like McNeal on the practice squad. While Portis has run well for them so far, if he misses the full 6 weeks, the Skins will be without him for 5 games. And even then there is no guarantee that he will be back 100%. The Redskins need to seriously consider putting Portis on injured reserve and ending his season. Now the downside of that is for the final 7 weeks, you will be without the only running back with starting experience and has proven to be an every down back in this league.  The problem is can they survive 5 games without having a true every down back, and then potentially more of the season if Portis doesn’t return 100%. The answer is I don’t think they can survive with their current three backs. And while I don’t think they will make a decision this week, if their running game stalls against the Packers they have to at least consider the possibility of shutting down Portis.

Now perhaps they could survive without him if their fullbacks were capable running threats, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Mike Sellers still catches the ball fairly well out of the backfield, but is no longer an effective rusher. And backup Darryl Young has a good bit of promise, but he is a converted linebacker and hasn’r run the ball for years. The Redskins passing attack also isn’t in line with say the Colts, Patriots, or Saints so a rushing attack is crucial to the Redskins success. One limited option could be using undrafted rookie Brandon Banks in an all-purpose role. While he has the speed and quickness to pick up chunks of yards, his size limitations will make him unlikely to help that much in the running game.

Also the option of trying to keep Portis on the roster and cutting another position isn’t going to work, as I can’t see them finding the roster spots for 5 running backs (plus two fullbacks). That would be almost as many backs as they have offensive linemen. Also, signing a veteran like Julius Jones or resigning Larry Johnson to replace Williams or Simpson probably won’t help that much as well. While the options are slim, I would be in favor of placing Portis on I.R. and signing a young running back. Especially if it is a player the team thinks could have a future in this league, and not just a stopgap.

For me there are a few interesting names on practice squads around the league as well as one interesting wild card. Herb Donaldson and Lonyae Miller both had good camps with the Cowboys, but with a stacked running back roster they lost out in the numbers game. Either could be a nice pick up, though both are sort of the same type of back as Torain/Williams. Charles Scott was above Keiland Williams on the depth chart and has some upside as a power runner, but he has already failed to catch on with the Cardinals and the Eagles. My wildcard risky pick would be to sign Pat White and begin converting him into a hybrid role, now he might not offer much in an every down running sense this year, but he can help make this offense more dynamic. He, unlike Banks is big enough to run between the tackles, and offer a legitimate Wildcat threat. The down side is with the position change it will be a good 3-5 weeks before he’d be ready for a game at best, not really helping fill the immediate hole created by Portis. My personal choice would be Rashawn Jackson from the Carolina Panthers practice squad. Jackson is listed as a fullback, but he became the feature back at UVA last year due to injuries. Although he lacks the speed to really break runs, he is an excellent short yardage running back, and has good hands for the passing game. His blocking, particularly blitz recognition needs improvement, but he could have a nice NFL future. Jackson could help replace Portis this year, add a short yardage option to the Redskins game plan (maybe get some of those 2nd down and goal to go plays), and help replace Sellers next season.

I realize it is a long-shot (big time) but Jackson has enough potential that I want to find a way for the Redskins to take a flier on him (unfortunately I don’t think they will cut Sellers to do so). It might mean the end of Portis for this season, but it will be for the best for Washington in the future. Hopefully the Skins will sign both McNeal to the practice squad and Jackson to the active roster, as they need some backup plans if Torain/Williams can’t carry the load.

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