Tandler's Take - Canidate

Running back Trung Canidate is currently listed at the top of the Redskins' depth chart. "We'd like to give him (Canidate) the first chance at it," offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said earlier this week when asked about how the running backs were sorting out in the battle to replace the departed Stephen Davis as the starter.

In truth, there hasn't been much of a battle so far as neither of Canidate's main challengers for the featured role has been on the field much. Ledell Betts, last year's second-round draft pick, has been hampered with an injured elbow and Kenny Watson, second on the team to Davis in rushing last year, hasn't practiced much lately with a sprained knee.

However, it's not exactly as though Canidate has seized the opportunity and sent a message to his competitors that they'd better get healthy in a hurry. He has dropped some passes and has sometimes failed to pick up blitzers. Jackson has had to get on him to hit the hole harder and run tougher.

''How is a hand gonna pull you down?!'' Jackson yelled at Canidate the other day. ''Come out of there running!''

Steve Spurrier isn't looking for a back to pound the ball between the tackles time after time, but hard running and toughness are required traits for a running back in any offense. Given that the former first-round pick by the Rams came here with a reputation for being soft, his difficulties are quite alarming.

Many who have been observing practice at Redskins Park agree that Sultan McCullough, a rookie free agent out of Southern Cal, has been superior to Canidate in practice so far. Both Jackson and Spurrier stated earlier this week that McCullough had a shot at making the team.

That brings up the numbers game. Spurrier has stated that he intends to carry just three tailbacks. Chad Morton, who is expected to pull double duty as the team's kick returner and third-down back, is the only lock. Betts, a second-round draft pick in 2002, showed flashes of solid play last year and is the only thing the team has resembling a power back to pick up the tough ground in short yardage situations, almost certainly has the second spot. That leaves Watson, Canidate, and McCullough vying for the last job.

In terms of the salary cap, the Redskins have little to lose by cutting any of them; none of the three has any prorated signing bonus on the books. They would gain the most by cutting Canidate, who carries a salary of $875,000. That over a half million more than Watson or McCullough make, making Canidate a tempting target for the Turk.

This week's preseason game against New England isn't quite make or break for Canidate, but he would help his chances with a good performance or at least one or two of the spectacular plays that the Redskins envisioned when they sent their fourth-round draft pick to St. Louis for him. If, however, he continues to run upright and drop passes and McCullough comes in for the second half and looks good, Spurrier, Jackson and the rest of the coaches will have to think long and hard about Canidate's future with the team.

Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has detailed coverage of every game the Redskins played from 1937 through the 2001 season. For details, go to RedskinsAtoZ.com

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