Plenty of Work To Go Around
If Maurice Clarett had paid attention to how Denver coach Mike Shanahan handles running backs, the 2005 third-rounder might still be in the NFL. Clarett was cut by Shanahan in August in part because he complained about not getting more carries with the first team. But he should have realized that all of Shanahan's backs eventually get their chance. "No question, he would have," Shanahan said on Monday, after his running-back-by-committee had had its fourth straight strong performance, piling up 165 yards in a 21-19 win over the Redskins. "But when guys come into the NFL you don't know how hard they're going to work and how diligently they'll prepare."
If they work, they'll get carries under Shanahan. That was true in the past for Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson (who, at 32, is taking his second turn as Denver's lead back) and Reuben Droughns. This year it's a combo of the ramlike Anderson, rejuvenated basher Ron Dayne and outside threat Tatum Bell. In Week 2, with the score tied at 17 against San Diego and Denver driving for the winning field goal, Shanahan brought in Dayne, the Heisman winner-turned-Giants-castoff, who carried six times for 38 valuable yards. The next week Anderson and Bell combined for 145 yards to confound the Chiefs. Then Anderson steamrollered the Jaguars for 115 yards. And on Sunday against the Redskins, Bell, a 2004 second-round pick out of Oklahoma State, rushed for 127 yards on 12 carries against the Redskins, including TD runs of 34 and 55 yards, on the wet Invesco Field grass. Against the Patriots this week, who knows? Once Shanahan sees how a game is going, he decides which back to go with.
"Mike and Ron are basically tough runners who can be really physical inside," said Shanahan. "Tatum brings a different dimension, an explosiveness. If he sees a seam in the defense, he can go the distance. When we play him too much, he wears down a little bit, but he's a guy who, used right, has home run capability."
Clarett must wonder: What if I'd just worked hard and waited my turn? He surely wouldn't be out of football.
He's Found His Footing
Of all the players in the league, the best at his position right now is Neil Rackers. Yes, Neil Rackers, the Arizona placekicker.
After five games Rackers has almost lapped the field by booting 18 of 18 field goals (seven more than any other kicker) and 16 kickoffs that went for touchbacks (five more than the next guy). He also has converted the second-longest field goal in the NFL this year, 54 yards, and took advantage of the high altitude in Mexico City on Oct. 2 to blast two kickoffs through the uprights--80 yards away--in a game against the 49ers.