It can safely be said that running back Jesse Lumsden does not back down from a challenge. His signature on a free agent contract with the Redskins is ample proof of that.
Washington's starter at the position is Clinton Portis. All he did last year was break the team record for rushing yards. He probably has quite a few more yards left in him at the spry age of 25. Behind him is Ladell Betts, 26 when the season starts, a second-round draft pick who gained 338 yards last year. Also ahead of Lumsden on the depth chart are Rock Cartwright, a favorite of coach Joe Gibbs, and second-year player Nehemiah Broughton, who is being looked at for a goal line and short yardage role.
Lumsden isn't used to being fifth or lower on any depth chart. He won the Hec Crighton Trophy, the Canadian version of the Heisman, while playing for McMaster in 2004. Among the items on his Crighton resume was an average of 10 yards a carry for the year, including a 108-yard run from scrimmage on the Canadian 110-yard field.
First he took his skills to the CFL, where he averaged five yards a carry for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. It seems that staying there would have been a decent career option for Lumsden, but he decided to take his skills south. His first attempt to latch on to an NFL roster spot was last year in Seattle, where he was cut late in camp.
"Now that I sit back and look at it, I realize I wasn't mentally ready," Lumsden said about his experience with the Seahawks. "I'm glad I went to that camp and got beat around a little bit and learned a lot of things."
The last part about learning a lot has been what has struck the Redskins coaches so far during his offseason workouts. Running backs coach Ernest Byner said that Lumsden was "a sponge" when it came taking in pointers and then utilizing them out on the practice field.
Lumsden realizes that he's facing an uphill battle to make the team. There is no doubt that he's done his homework and has realized that backups on the Redskins have to excel on special teams. "I'm here to find a way on this squad whatever way I can," he said. "I'm busting it on special teams."
For him to find a way onto the squad, someone will have to find his way off of it. Lumsden's primary assets as a running back are his speed and shiftiness. That would indicate that he won't be a challenger to the power back Broughton. He'll have to be pretty spectacular on teams to beat our Cartwright and Portis, of course, isn't going anywhere.
That leaves Betts as the primary obstacle in path to Lumsden's NFL dream. While Betts is considered to be a decent backup, he has never set the place on fire. He has one 100-yard game to his credit in four years. It always seems that just when Betts is starting to get on a roll, he breaks down with one type of injury or another. In those four years he has not played in 16 games, some due to injury, some due to being left on the inactive list for performance reasons.
On top of all that, Betts is going into the last year of his contract. Since the Redskins would have the rights to Lumsden for at least four years, it's quite possible that if they perform equally in camp and in the preseason games, the tie could go to Lumsden.