I’m convinced that at some point during the next few years, I will look back at Mike Shanahan’s courtship of a bunch of 29, 30, and 31 year old running backs as a complement to Clinton Portis as the Redskins’ feature running back, and see the genius in the move. After all, when you compare Larry Johnson to the other players that the Redskins were reportedly considering: Willie Parker and LaDainian Tomlinson, Johnson’s 4.3 YPC average in a few games as a Bengal last year actually looks pretty good by comparison.
I’m not at that point yet. Pending the draft, the Redskins will head into minicamp season with Portis and Johnson in a backfield timeshare, and you’d have to wonder exactly what the point of such a duo is going to be. Johnson is roughly the same age as Ladell Betts, and older than Rock Cartwright. Is he a scheme fit? Not really.
I think in Johnson and Portis, the Redskins have two guys who will, if nothing else, run hard. They’re both above average pass protectors, for backs. Johnson could offer his services as a third down protector to Portis’ first two downs, as the salaries suggest Portis will get first crack. But in all honesty, it’s hard to see a situation where both players are back in 2011, despite the fact that they are both under contract through the 2012 season (and Portis through 2013). Which, by extension, implies that at best, one of the two will underachieve their expectations this year and get the boot.
So, I have to ask what the logic is behind such a move. Is this merely a hedging exercise? Double the investment in older RBs who were once pro bowlers, and hope that one is clearly hotter than the other and that this back dominantes the playing time. That makes sense, but if so, it’s coming at the expense of being able to draft a back, and play him right away in the first half of the season, a Shanahan staple.
So, in short, I don’t really know what the plan is. The picture will hopefully become more clear after the draft, but it’s way too early to view the running back position as an offensive strength, and dare I say, less likely than it was the day Shanahan was hired.