'Skins' Portis is ready to put his game where his mouth is

Running back finds fault with last season's plan, likes new blocking scheme

Pro Football

August 06, 2005|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

ASHBURN, Va. - Clinton Portis could have been coy. He could have ducked the questions. He could have offered a few of the cliches today's athletes seem to have committed to memory.

Instead, Portis hasn't minced any words since the Washington Redskins opened training camp this week.

Here's Portis on being the running back in the Redskins' offense last season: "A year ago coming into the running game, it was just excitement [about] building a new system and having new things going on. I was excited about that. A year ago, we found out that didn't work."

Portis on his role: "We had myself at 205 [pounds] trying to be [the Ravens' 245-pound running back] Jamal Lewis."

Portis on his 64-yard touchdown run on his first carry in the regular-season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: "You couldn't have told me after that first play I wasn't going to have 2,000 yards. You couldn't have made me imagine that it wasn't going to happen. But I was just thinking today: We never ran that play again during the season."

Rushing for more than 4,400 yards and 34 touchdowns in three NFL seasons might give Portis, 23, the confidence to be blunt, but the University of Miami alumnus isn't looking to rock the boat.

All Portis wants is to help the Redskins improve from last year's 6-10 record and secure the organization's first playoff berth since 1999.

"You've always got hope," he said. "You're always thinking, `This is the game when it's going to work.' Last year, we went through 10 games where it didn't work. But this year is a new year. ... Somebody's going to blossom out of this group, and hopefully it's us."

As much as that hope depends on the development of quarterback Patrick Ramsey and the transition of new wide receivers Santana Moss and David Patten, Portis - by virtue of coach Joe Gibbs' reliance on the running game - will play a significant role in determining Washington's success.

In each of his first two seasons with the Denver Broncos, Portis rushed for more than 1,500 yards, averaged 5.5 yards per carry and scored at least 14 times.

After the Redskins acquired him in a trade for cornerback Champ Bailey and a second-round pick in the 2004 draft, Portis gained 1,315 yards - the sixth-highest single-season total by a Redskin - but reached the end zone just five times. His yards-per-carry average dipped to 3.8.

To elevate those numbers, Washington has tabled Gibbs' favored counter-trey blocking pattern in favor of more zone blocking. Portis said he likes the changes.

"I think it's an athletic scheme," Portis said. "I think you give the linemen a chance to use their talent. You're not putting them at a disadvantage by trying to make them be bull-over guys when that's not what they're used to. You're giving them a chance to go out and use their athleticism, you're giving the running backs a chance to make plays, you're giving the quarterback and the receivers a chance to make plays. So we're opening up our system."

While Gibbs disputed Portis' statement about not again calling the play that led to the touchdown run against Tampa Bay ("He's forgot a few things," Gibbs said), the coach shared his running back's frustration.

"We were disappointed, too, last year with what we were able to do," Gibbs said. "You're talking about a guy with 1,330 yards in a struggling offense. I thought it was an outstanding year for him, and I've said that many times. I think he had a very productive year. As a matter of fact, it's one of the best years a Redskins back has ever had. Hopefully, we can get the entire offense and everything performing the way we should. That's my responsibility. We need to get that done."

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