Who Will Win the Washington Redskins' Third-String RB Position?

Jack AndersonSenior Analyst IAugust 31, 2009

LANDOVER, MD - AUGUST 28:  Marcus Mason #24 of the Washington Redskins is tackled during a preseason game by James Sanders #36 of the New England Patriots at FedExField on August 28, 2009 in Landover, Maryland.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

The roster is beginning to take shape, but some strong performances last Friday against the Patriots left the running back position hotly contested.

With Rock Cartwright out, Devin Thomas impressed at kick returner. Should the 'Skins decide they feel comfortable with Thomas, Cartwright's position on the roster could be in doubt.

Cartwright is solely a special teamer. He doesn't contribute on offense, and isn't much of a threat to score when returning kicks. He is a consistent return man, but if the Redskins can find another player who can contribute in multiple areas, Cartwright could be gone.

The 'Skins also need to sort out the running back position. Both Marcus Mason and Anthony Alridge played very well against New England while Ladell Betts remains the No. 2.

Dominique Dorsey is also in the mix as the 'Skins have used him as both a running back and punt returner, but the strong performance of Alridge hurts his chances.

Alridge rushed for 49 yards on nine carries while Mason saw plenty of time en route to 30 yards and a TD on eight carries. Mason also caught two passes for 23 yards, but suffered some badly bruised ribs late, which could hurt his chances.

Betts didn't get a carry and caught the ball once for 12 yards. He saw limited action after straining his back in the Steelers game.

The running back situation is incredibly murky. Nothing has been suggested as to whether Betts is fighting for the number two RB job, but there has been strong play behind him.

Betts is a back in the mold of Clinton Portis, meaning he isn't much of a change-of-pace back. However, the team has stuck with him despite little production and a big contract.

Mason might have the best resume as a running back among the other three, but he also runs like Portis. He doesn't play special teams well, which is a must for third-string backs and his injured ribs might not allow him to play this week for a final showing.

Alridge is a prototypical third down back. He catches well out of the backfield, is shifty with great speed, and would be a much needed home run threat for the offense. He had a fumbling problem early in training camp, and missed time with a toe injury, but he looked like he hadn't missed a beat Friday night.

Dorsey and Alridge both can return punts, giving them extra value, but Alridge was more impressive on the ground against New England. Dorsey carried the ball five times for 22 yards, marking the second straight week of solid production.

I am uncertain how the 'Skins will play this out. Cartwright might get cut as he can't contribute on the ground even though he's listed as a running back. This will open things up for the third-string RB.

Betts will most likely be locked in as the number two, and I think Alridge might play his way onto the roster. He's explosive and that's something the Redskins badly need. However, the 'Skins like to keep keep things status quo so they could very well stick with Cartwright and Betts.

Mason plays his heart out and runs hard, but since he isn't a change-of-pace and can't contribute on special teams, he has to beat out Betts to make the team.

That would be a stretch, but if anyone has earned it it's Mason. He plays relentlessly and is trying improve his special teams game. He looked good catching out of the backfield.

After the dust settles, it appears that Portis and Betts will occupy two spots while the third RB spot remains an enigma.

Prediction: Alridge because he's the ideal change-of pace back. Mason and Cartwright will be in the running as well.

The talent at running back is deep so it won't be an easy decision, but the 'Skins could really take a big step forward offensively with Alridge providing his speed.