It's a Sellers' Market

Article excerpt

Byline: Ryan O'Halloran, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

When Clinton Portis, one of the NFL's most-used running backs, emerged from the Pittsburgh game three weeks ago with knee and leg injuries in addition to general body soreness, Washington Redskins coach Jim Zorn said spelling him would be a community effort.

Who knew that project would include Mike Sellers?

Through nine weeks, Zorn showed no inclination of using Sellers as a short-yardage runner or outlet receiver - one carry and two catches while averaging 24 snaps a game - despite his 47 receptions the past three years.

But the past two weeks, whether it's a product of Portis' health or the coaching staff being more open about using Sellers, Zorn has begun to utilize the 280-pounder's rare skill set. And it has paid immediate dividends.

In Sunday's win at Seattle, Sellers played a season-high 50 snaps (an unofficial statistic that doesn't include plays nullified by penalty) and had five offensive touches: one carry and four receptions. Against Dallas the Sunday before, he caught two early passes.

Sellers has third-down catches of 13 and 12 yards the past two games, a welcome bonus for a player whose primary job is putting his head down and running into the chests and helmets of charging linebackers and safeties.

He's obviously got a thankless job, center Casey Rabach said. Anytime you give him that crumb, he definitely appreciates it. We've seen what Mike can do in the past with the ball in his hands. For as big as he is, he's a tremendous athlete to throw it to or hand it to.

Said Zorn: It was wonderful that Mike had so much success [Sunday] doing different things.

The first nine games for Sellers were about blocking - period. Portis was the league's most valuable offensive player during the first half, and Zorn didn't want to take away a single opportunity from him. But when Portis got dinged, Sellers was the beneficiary, and he showed his versatility against Seattle.

* Fullback: 36 snaps. His most common target in blocking was Seahawks linebacker Julian Peterson.

* Single back, I formation: eight snaps. He was often the Redskins' only back in third-and-long situations.

* Split-back formation: two snaps. He cut-block Baraka Atkins to help Jason Campbell gain 4 yards on a quarterback keeper.

* Slot receiver: two snaps. When Campbell threw quick to Santana Moss, Sellers sprinted left to wipe out cornerback Kelly Jennings. Moss gained 24 yards.

* Kneel-down formation: two snaps. …