Larry Johnson gets start as Redskins host Ravens
By JOSEPH WHITE, AP Sports Writer
ASHBURN, Va. (AP)—Last week, it was Clinton Portis(notes). Now Larry Johnson(notes) has a turn at the feature role in the crowded competition for playing time in the Washington Redskins backfield.
Johnson will start Saturday night’s preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens as coach Mike Shanahan continues to sort out how best to handle a trio of older running backs out to prove they’re not past their prime.
“Larry’s been very consistent,” Shanahan said, “but I do see a sense of urgency this week. He’s going to get an opportunity to showcase his talents.”
The third back in the veteran mix is Willie Parker(notes), who will get to run with the first unit in next week’s game against the New York Jets.
“We will get a chance to see these guys in game situations,” Shanahan said. “We have had a chance to evaluate them in practice, but it is always a little hard to evaluate backs when people are not tackling them.”
Johnson will turn 31 in November, Parker will turn 30 in November, and Portis hits 29 on the first day of September. Johnson’s last 1,000-yard season came in 2006, when he piled up 1,789 yards with Kansas City. Parker last hit the four-digit mark in 2007, gaining 1,316 with Pittsburgh. Portis ran for 1,487 with the Redskins two years ago, but he missed half of last season with a concussion.
The additions of Johnson and Parker have put Portis on notice that he’s not irreplaceable. Although he entered training camp at the top of the depth chart, he had to play more than his usual token amount in the first preseason game, carrying six times for 22 yards.
Johnson and Parker sat out the first game, waiting their turns. For Johnson, it’s a chance to show he still has something left after declining performance and off-the-field issues led to his departure last year from the Chiefs.
“My body’s still fresh and young,” Johnson said. “People who sit on the couch, when they hit their 30s, they give up on the things that they can do (or) they used to do when they were 21. Being an athlete, you’re year-round working out and doing the things you need to do to keep yourself that way, and so being 30 doesn’t really change anything.”
Both the Ravens and Redskins got off to good preseason starts last week. Joe Flacco(notes) led two scoring drives in Baltimore’s win over Carolina, and Donovan McNabb(notes) threw a touchdown pass in his Washington debut in a victory over Buffalo.
The second game is usually more telling, with starters on both sides seeing more action. There’s also the annual debate as to whether these two teams have an actual rivalry—or if they’re just neighbors who get together every now and then. The Redskins barely broached the topic this week, but Baltimore coach John Harbaugh tried to talk it up a little.
“When you get on the field and you look over there and you see the burgundy and gold, and you see that that’s the team you’re playing, the competitive juices start flowing,” Harbaugh said, “and I’m sure they will for them, too.”