Portis carries offensive burden

Having running back in lineup provides punch for Redskins

October 04, 2006|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Sun Reporter

ASHBURN, Va. -- Most running backs who have attained the stature that Clinton Portis holds for the Washington Redskins wouldn't do some of the things Portis has since training camp began in late July.

Remember Portis making the tackle of Keiwan Ratliff after the Cincinnati Bengals cornerback had intercepted a pass in the opening series of the preseason, causing Portis to partially dislocate his left shoulder? Or how about the multiple blocks Portis made Sunday on one play - freeing Redskins wide receiver Santana Moss for the first of his three catch-and-run touchdowns - in a 36-30 overtime victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars at FedEx Field?

Portis isn't being paid more than $4 million a year to tackle or block, but to be the featured running back in Washington's offense. Given his performance since returning two games ago, Portis is certainly living up to his resume.

That resume already includes Portis being named to the Pro Bowl in his second season with the Denver Broncos in 2003 and rushing for a franchise record of 1,516 yards last season in Washington. With four rushing touchdowns this season, Portis is tied for the most in the NFL.

Though most discounted what Portis did against the NFL's worst defense two weeks ago in Houston - including a 74-yard run off a shovel pass and a 30-yard draw for a touchdown right before halftime - his performance against the Jaguars was more impressive.

With 112 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries against the NFL's third-ranked defense, Portis nearly doubled the average yards that Jacksonville had given up in its first three games. Washington, with 152 yards rushing, nearly equaled what the Jaguars had allowed (175) all season.

It is no coincidence the 2-2 Redskins have won two straight going into Sunday's game against the New York Giants (1-2) in East Rutherford, N.J. The new offense has gained 976 yards the past two weeks, and many around Redskins Park believe it has largely to do with a running game led by Portis.

"For the most part, the people that make the playoffs, if you look at the top 10 rushing teams, more likely six or seven of those are going to be in the playoffs," running backs coach Ernest Byner said. "Having him in there, defenses are going to have to respect at least that aspect of the game."

When Portis played sparingly in the season opener against Minnesota, and didn't play the next week at Dallas because of pain in his shoulder, the offense struggled, particularly the running game. The Redskins gained only 103 yards against the Vikings, and 93 against the Cowboys.

Asked last week if the offense has regained its swagger because of his presence, Portis said, "I think the guys are excited to see me on the field for the simple fact that I want to see everybody score. If we throw a screen to Santana or a quick hit to Brandon Lloyd, I want to get over there and block.

"You never know what play is going to be the difference-maker in the game. Or when I touch the ball, I'm trying to score. Or when Mark [Brunell] drops back to pass, I'm trying to keep people off him. I think it's the attitude or the mentality of giving it all you've got, and guys feed off of that energy."

Said Redskins coach Joe Gibbs: "For as much as he'll goof around and play the jokester, the game of football means a lot to him and he knows how to play the game."

Portis might still be a merry prankster among his teammates and coaches, but the public persona has certainly been toned down since last season. What started out as a way to break the tension of a three-game losing streak last season turned into a Thursday ritual of Portis dressing up as different characters, one wilder than the next.

There haven't been any costumes this season, except when Portis was hurt and sadly called himself "Injured Man."

"I really don't feel like it's needed," Portis said. "I think everybody's looking forward to it and expecting it. Once it's expected, it's hard to come up with something that people are going to enjoy."

At 25, Portis is comfortable with his role on the Redskins, and more importantly, his place in life. It stems in part from a car accident Portis was involved in while at the University of Miami.

"I was in a car wreck that I shouldn't have walked away from," Portis said. "After that, I accepted death. What can scare me? What can be so serious? I already damn near lost my life. If you take football away from me, I can find something else to do."

In Denver, Portis was becoming a star in his own right, but John Elway was - and in some ways still is - the face of the franchise.

In Washington, Gibbs is still the face of the franchise, but Portis is closing ground.

"I never really cared about being the face of an organization," Portis said. "I always felt like, if we win, everybody gets the [fame] they deserve. I never thought about being the front-runner. Once you become the front-runner, the only other place you can go is down." don.markus@baltsun.com

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