ASHBURN, Va. - The new year is still more than a week away, but the Washington Redskins are already adopting a policy of "out with the old, in with the new."
Out is veteran running back Stephen Davis, who will miss Sunday's 1 p.m. home game against the Houston Texans because of a dislocated shoulder suffered in last week's 34-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
In is Ladell Betts, the 5-foot-10, 221-pound rookie out of Iowa who - along with second-year player Kenny Watson - will get most of the carries against Houston (4-10) and against the Dallas Cowboys (5-9) next week.
"They're pretty important for me," Betts said of the upcoming opportunities for 5-9 Washington. "I want to do well for myself, and I want to show the coaches that I can play this game."
Lofty expectations were set for the soft-spoken 23-year-old after he became the team's second pick - 56th overall - behind quarterback Patrick Ramsey in last April's draft.
At Iowa, Betts became the first player to lead the Hawkeyes in rushing for four consecutive years and ranks second in career yardage at 3,686 yards behind Sedrick Shaw's 4,156.
His low center of gravity and fast feet drew the attention of the Redskins, who needed a shifty running back in coach Steve Spurrier's Fun `N' Gun offense.
Inactive for five games this season, Betts has played in the other nine, picking up 93 yards on 28 carries and 154 yards on 12 receptions. He also has returned 26 kickoffs for an average of 24.7 yards.
His most extensive tour of duty came Sunday against Philadelphia. After Davis dislocated his right shoulder on the game's second play, Betts became the focal point, gaining 49 yards on 16 carries, compared to Watson's nine yards on four attempts.
But Betts may be remembered more for a botched handoff that led to an Eagles defensive touchdown.
With Washington threatening to cut into a 17-7 deficit and 10:09 left in the third quarter, Ramsey and Betts made a bad exchange, and Philadelphia linebacker Carlos Emmons jumped on the fumble.
Emmons eventually got back to his feet and returned the ball 44 yards for a score, and Betts had a highlight he'd like to forget.
"There's really no one to blame in that situation," he said. "Sometimes, things like that happen. Unfortunately, it happened in a bad situation."
Left tackle Chris Samuels echoed that sentiment and said Betts should not be blamed.
"Anytime you come into a new system, you're going to make mistakes just from being young," said Samuels.
"I made them. Everybody else on this level has made them. But overall, I'm proud of the guy. He's working hard day-to-day and trying his best."
To reach that level, Betts said he is reviewing more game film than he ever did at Iowa. He said he usually spends two hours every night watching videotapes prepared for him by the coaches.
He also has leaned on Davis, whose wisdom as a seven-year pro has been indispensable.
If - as Davis and Spurrier have been hinting - Davis is released after this season to clear room under the salary cap, Betts knows his candidacy for the role of starting running back next fall will depend, in part, on how he fares during the next two games under Spurrier's watchful eye.
"He's probably expecting me to do things, as well as I'm expecting big things from myself," Betts said. "I just have to go out there and prepare."