For most of his NFL life, Ladell Betts backed up outstanding runners. But when it's time get on the field, Betts has been able to showcase his own skills as well.
In 2002, he played behind Stephen Davis. In 2003, it was Trung Canidate. In both years, Betts battled injuries while at the same time competing versus those No. 1 running backs. Now he's beginning his second season playing behind Clinton Portis.
The 5-10, 222-pounder prides himself in his value to the team. So far this season, Betts has rushed for 93 yards on 28 carries, spelling Clinton Portis at various points of games. He has also stepped up as the Redskins' primary kickoff returner, logging a 22.4-yard average in nine attempts.
His team-first mentality is not lost with the coaching staff.
"Ladell has played exceptionally well on both sides of the ball, offensively and on special teams," head coach Joe Gibbs said on Monday. "I think he is one of the many great stories we have on our football team."
In training camp, Gibbs sat down with Betts to discuss the fourth-year player's role on the offense.
"His role is a very important role," Gibbs said. "I've told Clinton [Portis] that we never want him in there playing tired. Clinton has a good feel for the football team and I think he feels like Ladell is pretty good, too."
As much as Betts wants to be a starter in the league, he understands the situation for 2005.
"It's tough from a competitive standpoint," Betts said. "Everybody wants to be 'The guy,' but I understand that Clinton is No. 1. The coaches trust me to step in and make plays when my number is called. I take great pride in that."
In Sunday's 20-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks, Betts rushed for 35 yards on 12 carries. Spelling Portis, Betts kept the chains moving, picking up a first down on a drive that resulted in a Nick Novak field goal in the third quarter.
Betts' best game came in the Redskins' 21-18 season finale victory over the Vikings last year at FedExField.
With Portis nursing an injury, Betts got his first start of the season and set personal bests in carries (26) and rushing yards (118). He tied a career long run with a 27-yarder and scored a touchdown.
He also rose to the occasion last season in the Redskins 17-14 loss to the Eagles. With Chad Morton sidelined, Betts stepped up on the team's kickoff return duties.
Betts returned the opening kickoff 70 yards. A facemask penalty put the ball on the 7-yard line, setting up a Portis touchdown for the first score of the game.
In all, Betts returned 23 kickoffs last season for 528 yards (a 23.0 average). In his rookie campaign, he retuned 28 kickoffs for 690 yards (a 24.6) average.
Betts has not been alone in playing multiple roles on the Redskins. Rock Cartwright, a seventh-round pick by the Redskins in the 2002 NFL Draft, has served as a goal-line back and a special teams coverage player over the years. The two have formed a bond in their four seasons as teammates.
"We've been good friends on and off the field and good teammates as well," Betts said. "We both feel lucky and blessed. We're fighting for the same common goal, getting to the playoffs."
Added Cartwright: "I love what I do. Ladell loves what he does. We work hard every day and push each other to get better."
The soft-spoken Betts understands his seniority within the offense and his added value with leadership. "I consider myself a vet now," said Betts. "I'm one of the few guys who has been around here that long."