Portis proving he’s not just another tailback
By Charles Robinson, Yahoo! Sports 1 hour, 2 minutes ago
- Buzz Up
ASHBURN, Va. – The little yellow piece of paper handed to Clinton Portis contained nine names. When he pored over them, his sleepy eyes went wide as silver dollars, and he chuckled softly as he ticked off the names on the list.
Reuben Droughns … Mike Anderson … Tatum Bell … Cecil Sapp … Mike Bell … Travis Henry … Selvin Young … Andre Hall … Michael Pittman.
He knew the common thread immediately. The list bore the names of nine running backs who have started at least one game for the Broncos since Portis was traded by that franchise before the 2004 season. Players that, as the logic went at the time he was dealt to the Washington Redskins, could simply be plugged into Denver’s system with the same megawatt results Portis delivered his first two seasons in the NFL.
“It’s all about the system, right?” Portis said with a grin. “Well then, I guess right now they are trapped in the system.”
Four and a half seasons have passed, and the Broncos still haven’t found an adequate replacement for their onetime superstar. But this isn’t about revisionist history. Even Portis isn’t foolish enough to suggest Denver made a mistake dealing him for cornerback Champ Bailey. Instead, as he stands at the latest peak in his career – and holding a commanding lead in the league’s rushing race with 818 yards – the 27-year old Portis believes he is delivering a salient rebuttal to NFL theory. One that teammate Shaun Alexander summed up best.
“You can find running backs,” Alexander said. “But can you find great ones?”
Portis’ 7th TD of the season put Washington on the board against Cleveland Sunday.(US Presswire/James Lang)
It was a rhetorical question. As the former league MVP Alexander learned, the NFL sucks the lifeblood from its runners and unceremoniously discards the carcasses. But in the rare event a franchise finds a lasting, consistent star, it often protects him like plutonium. And Portis is making his case as one of the enduring elements of his era, off to the best start of his seven-year career and on pace to rush for 1,869 yards and 16 touchdowns. With the Redskins paving a road as NFC Super Bowl contenders, those would be MVP-type digits, even as the league splits at the seams with bloated quarterback statistics.
That success is a shot across the bow of Portis’ past critics, a cadre of fans and media analysts who forecasted his demise as an injury-prone player and criticized his practice dedication under former coach Joe Gibbs. But there was a shift this offseason, when Portis restructured his contract to gain a $9.2 million signing bonus and $15.7 million in guaranteed money through 2010. Within that deal were financial incentives for Portis’ participation in Washington’s offseason program – something he had always eschewed to spend the spring and summer in Florida, working out near his home with former University of Miami teammates.
That changed this offseason, when Portis stayed in Virginia and participated in the Redskins’ array of workouts and minicamps. Now seven games into the season, Portis is once again teasing fans with his big-play ability. He’s notched eight carries of 20 yards or more so far. By comparison, he had only six 20-plus runs in his previous two seasons under Joe Gibbs.
All the while, he has tested first-year coach Jim Zorn, who’s been both openly stern and demanding of Portis’ practice involvement. And when he doesn’t get it, you can hear the annoyance in Zorn’s voice, such as this week, which has seen Portis miss practice while resting his hip.
“He’s the kind of player that every coach would dream about on Sunday,” Zorn said. “I dream about a more participatory player in practice. But I will say this – he gives it up during the games and wears himself out. He wants to rest during the week. It’s not conducive to all the things that we want to try to do, but it’s what we’ve got to work with.
“I’m not OK with him not practicing, but it’s a necessity. He does get dinged up. And physically he needs to rest, so we’re giving him a rest.”
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