Redskins staring at intriguing RB battle

Nobody said that replacing running back Stephen Davis would be easy.<br><br> In Washington, a battle ensues to replace the productive back.

A Washington Redskins training camp with little expected drama over starting spots does have one particularly intriguing battle brewing.
       
Well, it's not quite brewing yet. But by the time preseason games start, many observers expect unheralded running back Kenny Watson to push highly-touted newcomer Trung Canidate for a roster spot. For now, Canidate is pretty much undisputed on the first string. The Redskins traded a fourth-round pick for the former St. Louis speedster on the first day of free agency, making further ripples on a day when they clearly had the NFL's biggest splash (they also signed guards Randy Thomas and Dave Fiore that day).

But Canidate didn't look sharp in offseason practices, particularly early on. And he still must prove that he can be an NFL-caliber back, and that he can hang on to the ball.
       
Watson is almost the antithesis of Canidate. He gets the job done with no fanfare. He went undrafted in 2001 after playing mostly wide receiver at Penn State, while Canidate was the Rams' first-round pick in 2000. Last season Watson emerged as Washington's best short-yardage option after Stephen Davis was injured. Watson finished with 534 rushing yards, a 4.6-yard average and one touchdown, plus the third-most catches on the club (32).
       
But Watson isn't blessed with Canidate's tremendous speed. That's strike one. And Watson is a former signee of Marty Schottenheimer, the 2001 coach and GM. That's a big strike two. Expect Canidate to get every break and then some when it comes time to make a roster call. But current evidence suggests that Watson will have a legitimate chance to win the battle.
       
Why does the fight break down so purely as Watson-vs.-Canidate?
       
Simple. The Redskins will keep three tailbacks (and two fullbacks, Bryan Johnson and Rock Cartwright). One tailback will be Ladell Betts, the club's second-round pick last year. His draft status will keep him from being cut. Another will be Chad Morton, whose roster spot is guaranteed by his ability to return kickoffs and punts.
       
Morton, incidentally, looked very strong in offseason workouts. And he's just as fast as Canidate, though a bit undersized. So Morton could fill the speedster-out-of-the-backfield role while Watson and Betts are used as more traditional rushers. Plus Watson has value on special teams.
       
An important note is that Canidate, having been traded, is easy to cut. He brought no pro-rated signing bonus with him from St. Louis. There are no cap ramifications for cutting him.
       
Still, the personnel department has a lot of pride on the line. If Canidate flops, it was a waste of a fourth-round pick.


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