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For Duckett, It's All Downhill

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Just three weeks before the Sept. 11 opener versus Minnesota, it appears the Redskins have some backfield issues to iron out. It's something of a crowded room, with newcomer T.J. Duckett joining a group that includes Clinton Portis, Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright, among others.

Joe Gibbs, Al Saunders and Earnest Byner have Saturday evening's game at New England and next Thursday's visit by Baltimore to formulate their plan.

Gibbs said on Wednesday that he can envision Portis, Duckett, Betts and Cartwright all serving valuable roles on the Redskins this season.

"We know our guys and we like them," he said. "We have very good backs. [The trade] had nothing to do with them. It was us having a chance to add someone we feel is a really good football player."

Continued Gibbs: "We have Clinton, one of our leaders and a guy who can do great things for us. We have Ladell, Rock and Nemo--and those guys have worked hard."

The 6-0, 254-pound Duckett was a first-round pick (18th overall) by Atlanta out of Michigan State in 2002. He has 31 TDs in 54 career games.

Duckett is regarded as a downhill, bruising running back, meaning that he is best when he is coming right at the defense.

Asked if Duckett will become the primary back in goal-line situations, Gibbs said: "Obviously, he has a bunch of touchdowns and is a big back. We're real comfortable with Clinton running it down there, too."

The coaching staff praised the work of Betts during the offseason and when Portis went down with his shoulder injury at Cincinnati on Aug. 13, it appeared Betts would take the spot of Portis on a short-term basis.

If the deal for Duckett eventually catapults the former Falcon into the role of featured back, Betts could serve the team well in a role he's held down in the past, as a kickoff return specialist.

Cartwright is regarded as one of the team's most valuable special teams performers while youngsters such as Jesse Lumsden and Broughton are trying to impress the staff. All NFL teams have to cut down to 65 players by next Tuesday and to 53 by Saturday, Sept. 2.

Gibbs said Portis is ahead of schedule in terms of his rehabilitation work and that the deal for Duckett had nothing to do with the Portis injury situation.

Duckett took part in his first drills as a Redskin on Thursday afternoon, working closely with Byner, the running backs coach.

"It's still a learning process and they're throwing a lot at me," Duckett said. "I'm just trying to pick it up as much as I can each day."

Asked about the learning curve, Duckett replied: "It's hard, but I don't have a choice. I can't say it's going to be easy. It's going to be hard and it's going to take time. I'm going to make some mistakes, but I'm out here learning to get better."

Gibbs said on Thursday that he expects Duckett will get some carries in the preseason game against the Patriots. Duckett has played some this preseason, but with the Falcons.

"He's just getting started here, but it looks like he has a feel for things," Gibbs said. "We'll see if we can get him some carries. I don't think that would be a problem."

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