Although Clinton Portis' knee tendinitis has resurfaced, Washington Redskins officials remain more cautious than worried with the season opener more than a month away.
The Redskins are resting Portis now — he has missed the last three practices — so he can withstand the workload associate head coach Al Saunders envisions for him this fall. That meant Portis was limited to riding a stationary bike under the trainer's tent yesterday morning.
"We're going to modify his workout some, concentrate a bit more on the strength work and conditioning without the trauma of practice," director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer said. "He feels a little discomfort when he cuts and turns and pivots on the leg, so we're going to get it strong and get him back out there.
"As much as Clinton thought he was ready to go, it's two-a-days — it's football. ... We're doing the smart thing."
Tyer said Portis could play if the Redskins had a regular game Sunday and that he is "days, not weeks" from returning to practice.
Portis is one of four injured offensive starters — right guard Randy Thomas (knee), left tackle Chris Samuels (knee) and receiver Santana Moss (groin) — to miss time or be limited in practice. Portis, who was not available for comment, missed the final seven games last year with shoulder and hand injuries, both of which required offseason surgery. The knee problem flared up in June, forcing him to miss the team's minicamp.
Although the Redskins aren't publicly concerned, there has to be at least slight consternation inside Redskin Park. Portis is just 25, but he has 1,385 rushing attempts in his five-year NFL career.
"The reality is that we've got to make sure we get it right," running backs coach Earnest Byner said. "I think that's one of the concerns he has — let's get it strong and get it healed so he can move on. ... The reality is [we] need the other guys prepared and ready to step in."
A plus for the Redskins is they have quality depth at running back. Ladell Betts rushed for a career-high 1,154 yards last year, newcomer Derrick Blaylock has 198 career carries and Mike Sellers and Rock Cartwright have produced when given an opportunity.
"It's something we've been through before," Betts said of filling in for Portis.
It will fall specifically on Betts to be the No. 1 back should Portis be limited during the preseason and miss time in the regular season.
When they were rookies in 2002, Betts told Cartwright, "Give me 20 carries and I'll give you 100 yards."
"That's what I always say," Betts said. "I feel I've always been a rhythm runner and the more carries I get, the more I'll get done. I'll find a way to get you 100 yards."
Betts has delivered as a Redskin when given a heavy load. In his nine games with 20 or more carries, He has reached 100 yards seven times and averaged 120.8 yards a contest.
Filling in for Portis last year, Betts had a stretch of five consecutive 100-yard games. But it took an injury to Portis for the chance to materialize.
"It's hard when you bring in a Clinton Portis because the coaches want to see Clinton run the ball all the time," Sellers said. "He was fortunate last year to get a chance to show everybody he could do things on a consistent basis. Doing the stuff we do in practice, you stay on your game but it still takes a true professional to be thrown into the mix and perform at the top level like he did."
It took Betts time to adjust to his role with the Redskins. He was the lead back in at Rockhurst High School in Kansas City, Mo., and at Iowa. His first four NFL seasons, he had 65, 77, 90 and 89 carries.
"It was tough at first because it was so out of the norm for me," he said. "I was going from being a guy who would always get 20-30 carries a game to a spot duty guy."
Helping Betts was his work in practice. Even when Portis was playing on Sundays, the pounding would limit his time with the first team on Wednesdays and Thursdays, allowing Betts to get accustomed to getting the handoff from the starting quarterback and running behind the offensive line.
That lack of transition showed once Betts became the starting back for good at Tampa Bay last November. Following an 18-yard game against the Buccaneers, Betts averaged 135.6 yards over a five-game stretch, bumping the Redskins from 12th in the league to their final standing of fourth.
As a reward, Betts opted to forgo the free agent market to sign a five-year contract extension in December. As a result, Betts enters the season with more confidence that there isn't a steep drop-off if Portis is out of the game.
"When you go through the live experience, it helps," Byner said. "And when you have success, it reinforces the thoughts and mentality he had coming up to that point."