If there is one preseason battle that deserves a lot more attention out of Washington, it is the quiet competition between Marcus Mason and Rock Cartwright for the third-string tailback position.
Much has been made about Marcus Mason’s lack of special teams expertise, but no one can question his title of King of Preseason around these parts. Most fans have been brainwashed to believe that Rock Cartwright is the end all and be all of special teams proficiency, and 25.1 yards per kick return certainly justifies the argument.
But no one ever questions his lack of appearance or productivity in the Washington offense, which is the center of controversy following a couple of anemic outings this preseason.
The question becomes one of what’s most important in winning a football game; big play potential on special teams, or big play potential from the line of scrimmage. Devin Thomas certainly didn’t look horrible at kick returner in the last preseason game, and Cartwright’s injury may just be enough for Washington to look in another direction for roster spot exclusivity reserved for special teams.
But there is a reason that Mason has never appeared in an NFL regular season game, and the hope is that Jim Zorn is competent enough to see a glaring fault that isn’t easily obvious in his outings against second and third-string competition in the preseason.
My sense? You take a chance on Mason. He could be the compliment to Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts that Darren Sproles has been to the San Diego Chargers, and Reggie Bush will eventually be to the New Orleans Saints; not a regular contributor to the offense over 16 games, but someone that can make the most of six to eight touches per game.
Washington has enough weapons in the running and passing game that Mason’s entry on early downs could wreak havoc on linebackers and safeties. You may want to make the same claim about Cartwright, but you can’t; even if he is in the top five in the league at returning kicks.
Mason has worked hard and proven himself to be a speed back in the open, and a competent back running between the tackles. There are questions about the Washington offense, but there’s no question that Marcus Mason gives the offense a far better chance at impacting games than Cartwright does through special teams.