- The Washington Times - Friday, January 6, 2006

Asking to be called “Coach Janky Spanky” yesterday at Redskin Park, Clinton Portis — wearing inflatable headsets, tight coaches’ shorts, whistle and clipboard — claimed he was applying to be the Washington Redskins’ new defensive coordinator.

“I’ll cost a lot less zeroes than Gregg Williams,” said Portis, referring to Williams’ $8 million contract extension.

Several teammates watched as he drew up defensive plays (featuring Santana Moss at cornerback) and ways to stop the Redskins running game (put 13 defenders on the field).

Occasionally lost in the outfits and wigs, fake names and props that Portis produced every Thursday is one fact: In the last five games, as the Redskins went from 5-6 also-ran to 10-6 playoff team, Portis has been their best offensive player.

Games of 136, 105, 112, 108 and 112 rushing yards have ignited the Redskins’ offense heading into tomorrow’s NFC wild-card game at Tampa Bay.

Games of 27, 26, 23, 27 and 27 carries have confirmed Portis is the right fit for coach Joe Gibbs’ offense.

“For us, the last five games, it’s the absolute best he’s been — he’s just gotten better and better,” Gibbs said.

Portis finished the 2003 season with six consecutive 100-yard games for Denver, but an ankle injury left him hobbled for the Broncos’ wild-card game at Indianapolis. He managed 68 yards on 17 carries in a 41-10 Colts victory.

That stretch, which included a five-touchdown game against Kansas City, may have been more flashy, but his current stretch has been more important.

“This is the most meaningful stretch I’ve had,” he said. “My numbers haven’t been sky high, but knowing the situation and what’s placed on me and that teams are trying to stop me, I’ve still been able to produce and find a way to help the team win.”

Portis finished the regular season with 11 touchdowns and a team-record 1,513 yards. He’s enjoyed particular success against the Bucs despite their reputation as one of the NFL’s top defenses. Portis gained 148 yards in his Redskins debut last season against the Bucs and 144 yards at Tampa Bay in November.

Portis said a difference this season is he’s learned to let his blocks develop before heading up field. And, 4- and 5-yard gains are sometimes fine.

“I’ve learned to become more patient, just knowing what the guys around me are doing, knowing a guy’s strong and weak points, understanding the scheme and how we block and basically just reading the play,” he said. “Last year, I got to the point where I just wanted to make a play and tried to do it on my own.”

By partly doing it the Redskins way, he has spearheaded a rushing game that takes longtime fans back to the days of John Riggins.

Gibbs often is unwilling to compare current Redskins to past players. But, he said Portis and Riggins are alike in that they have embraced the team’s weight training philosophy and show up every Sunday. Portis said he added 18 pounds during the offseason.

“I thought he looked good and he set a game plan there,” Gibbs said. “He bought into the [weight] program here and Riggins was the same way. He became dedicated and he felt it prolonged his career. And that was a big change for John.”

What Riggins and Portis also have in common is showing up on Sunday. Riggins missed fewer than two games in nine of his 14 seasons. Portis has carried 693 times the last two seasons and has missed only one game.

“Durability-wise, I’ve always admired Clinton,” Gibbs said. “To get hit that much, you watch from the sideline and, man, they’re getting pounded because there are 11 guys trying to whack you. That’s been one of the most amazing things he’s done. And he doesn’t avoid stuff.

“He was made to play football.”

And even though his workload has increased the last five games, from 20.2 carries the first 11 games to 26.0 during the winning streak, and Portis admits to being beat up, he has enough energy for four more games. In 1982, Riggins averaged 34 carries and 152.5 yards in four playoff games, including 166 yards in the Super Bowl XVII win over Miami.

“I’m banged up again and if you’re not the at the end of the season, you haven’t been doing much,” Portis said. “I’ll be on the field and I can go another month if I have to and then have plenty of time to rest.”

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