With Redskins, Portis is looking out for No. 26

Ex-Broncos running back bargaining with Ohalete for his uniform number

Pro Football

May 02, 2004|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - The numbers are impressive.

Only the third running back in NFL history to gain 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons. Eighteen 100-yard rushing games during that span. One yard shy of 3,100 rushing yards, 678 receiving yards and 31 combined touchdowns.

And yet Washington Redskins tailback Clinton Portis finds himself concerned about an entirely different number: that of his uniform.

Portis, who wore No. 26 with the Denver Broncos during his first two seasons, slipped into a jersey with the No. 3 during Washington's first minicamp last month.

During the team's second minicamp at Redskins Park yesterday, Portis wore No. 6. He joked that it's a step up in the right direction.

"Hopefully by the time the season starts, I'll be in the 20s somewhere," Portis said with a laugh. "We're working our way up."

Whatever number Portis settles on, defenses will be honing in on the third-year running back out of Miami who was named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2002 and earned his first Pro Bowl selection last season.

Portis led all running backs in yards per carry last year with a 5.5-yard average. He finished fifth in the league in rushing with 1,591 yards despite missing three games because of injury.

Yet, Portis felt unwanted in Denver. When he asked to have his rookie contract renegotiated, the team rebuffed his request.

In stepped Washington, which was looking for a centerpiece for new head coach Joe Gibbs' offense. The Redskins had a disgruntled employee of their own in cornerback Champ Bailey.

So the team traded players and Washington also threw in a second-round choice in last month's draft. The price, according to Gibbs, was worth it.

"I don't think you have to worry about Clinton," Gibbs said when asked if Portis was living up to his expectations. "He's already done it. He's the one guy here we don't have to worry about [because] he's already produced."

There was talk that Portis' success in Denver was a byproduct of the team's blocking, which also produced 1,000-yard rushers in Terrell Davis, Mike Anderson and Olandis Gary.

But Portis said he isn't about to overextend himself just to prove a point.

"When you put that kind of pressure on yourself, you tend to overdo things, and you get out of your comfort zone by trying to prove things to people," he said. "I think I just need to come out and be relaxed and do what's expected of me."

To many, that would be another 1,000-yard season and lots of touchdowns. But Joe Bugel, the assistant head coach in charge of the offense, said he relishes Portis' catching ability out of the backfield.

"He is a viable threat down the field," Bugel said of Portis, who has caught 71 passes in his pro career. "He adds another dimension to our pass offense."

So while Portis continues to immerse himself in a new playbook and a new offensive system, he's still hankering for his old jersey number. No. 26 is currently worn by free safety Ifeanyi Ohalete, who has turned down Portis' monetary offers.

Portis is hopeful he can change Ohalete's mind, but he acknowledges the odds are against him.

"Negotiations stalled," he said. "They're not moving. ... Neither side is talking right now."

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