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VA Pilot:Skins could use a Rock-solid game


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Skins could use a Rock-solid game

By JIM DUCIBELLA, The Virginian-Pilot

© November 16, 2003

There was a smile on Rock Cartwright’s face all last week.

It started with the praise Washington Redskins coach Steve Spurrier heaped on him for his 81-yard rushing performance in the Redskins’ 27-20 victory over Seattle last week.

It continued Tuesday, when Cartwright and his best friend — Carolina Panthers tailback Stephen Davis — engaged in their weekly phone conversation. Cartwright told Davis that he might start today against Carolina. Davis, who went to Carolina after being released last offseason by the Redskins, wished him luck and told Cartwright he was proud of him.

“That meant a lot,” Cartwright said. “I look at him as a big brother and a role model.”

As the week wore on, Cartwright graciously answered question after question about himself and his relationship with Davis.

The 5-foot-7, 223-pound second-year pro, given name Rodrick, grinned recalling that his grandmother began calling him “Rock Baby” as an infant. As he grew, the “baby” was dropped, but the name fit his size, so “Rock” stuck.

He acknowledged that his 13 rushes last week were his most since high school, and he laughed as he told how he once carried 49 times in a prep-league game.

“You guys probably think this is amazing, but in high school, I was bigger than a lot of the guys I played against,” Cartwright said. “I just ran over them.” Equally amazing, given his size, Cartwright has already run over a few NFL defenders.

“He has a great knack for putting people in a position to have to arm-tackle him,” Spurrier said. “And he’s strong enough to break those tackles. It’s something all really good backs can do.”

Earlier in the week, Spurrier hinted that Cartwright might start at tailback, even though his normal position is fullback. That may change today because the Redskins have almost no healthy running backs.

Trung Canidate and Chad Morton are hobbled with high-ankle sprains. Ladell Betts and Sultan McCullough remain out with fractures of the arm and hand, respectively. Bryan Johnson, the normal starting fullback, has suffered a series of small concussions that has sent the Redskins looking for a help with more protection.

If Johnson starts, Cartwright will move to tailback even though he didn’t practice at that position last week. If Johnson can’t go, newly signed John Simon will play tailback and Cartwright will start at fullback.

“Whether he starts or not,” Spurrier said, “Rock is capable of playing a lot of tailback.”

Whatever happens, Cartwright credits Davis with helping him make the transition from Kansas State to the NFL.

“He treated all of the young guys as if they were any other guy,” Cartwright said. “He taught you how to get better.”

Cartwright said Davis showed him how to break down films of opposing players, how to find holes in defensive alignments, how to get an edge.

The two talked about how Davis began his pro career as a fullback before moving to tailback. Davis told him that just because a player starts at one position doesn’t mean he’s stuck there forever.

He also befriended Cartwright, bringing him to his home for Christmas dinner last year when the rookie had nowhere else to go.

“Stephen’s a physical, hungry runner,” Cartwright said. “I think our styles are similar. He taught me how to approach the game, where to put the ball when I run. We’re best friends.”

When Davis left the Redskins, Cartwright looked at Canidate, Morton and Betts and figured they’d be the ones to take over.

He sees things a little differently now.

“In the long term, I think I can be a feature runner here,” Cartwright said. “I have to be consistent, do it game after game. But I’ve learned that you can’t judge a man by his size, and it doesn’t bother me what people say about that. I know I can play at this level, and that makes this the most exciting time of my life.”

Reach Jim Ducibella at 446-2364 or at jim.ducibella@pilotonline.com

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