ASHBURN, Va. | Here's something unusual: Of all the drama that surrounded the Washington Redskins during training camp and the preseason, none of it had anything to do with Clinton Portis.
The running back known for dressing in costumes, pouting about practicing and criticizing everyone in his path quietly went about his business while Albert Haynesworth and Donovan McNabb dominated the spotlight.
Portis is about 15 pounds slimmer than last season, and teammates say he's been more dedicated and focused than they've seen him in a long time.
"I made it my goal this preseason to make sure I was never the topic of conversation or headlines about missing practice," said Portis, whose only missed time came when he sat out a few days with a sprained ankle. "I wanted to show my teammates I was dedicated to getting myself right."
As he often does, Portis rambled through many topics during his 15 minutes with reporters Thursday. He defended himself more than once and still has that ever-present chip on his shoulder, but his only sharp comments were aimed at the press, which he long ago decided wasn't always going to be on his side anyway.
"Even though y'all want me to be forgotten about," Portis said, "I'm still here."
For a while, it wasn't certain he would be back. Portis missed the last eight games of last season after suffering a severe concussion in a helmet-to-helmet hit in a game against Atlanta. It was several months before he was medically cleared, and the annual circus that the Redskins had become had him wondering if it was time to try to move on to another team.
"Did I question whether I would be back with the Redskins? Yes," Portis said. "I know, as far as this town, it's a bittersweet relationship. On Sundays, they love me. On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday when the headlines come out, it's a lot of hatred. So you get in that bittersweet relationship, it's like wanting to start over, wanting to start new."
The Redskins hired Mike Shanahan and Bruce Allen were hired as coach and general manager. Portis' finest years came under Shanahan in 2002-03 with the Denver Broncos.
"It was a new regime coming in, and luckily for me it was coach Shanahan," Portis said. "I think (it was) having coach Shanahan coming in here and Bruce Allen, and knowing now we're legit, like we really got a chance, like things are going to change."
Portis also got healthy again. As scary as the concussion was, he is now able to call it "a blessing."
"I think that was a blessing. I think that gave you the opportunity to go out and realize how much being on this field really meant to you, how much being around your teammates meant," Portis said. "I was gone after Week Eight, and I still got the finger pointed at me like I was the problem the last eight weeks of the season. I think it gave me a chance to go out and take a look in the mirror and realize the things that are my faults and things I was doing wrong and the person I needed to be."
So what was he doing wrong?
"Honestly, I don't feel like I was doing nothing wrong but telling the truth," Portis said, "but at the same time I got to the point of, 'I could be a better teammate.'"
For Portis, being a better teammates meant putting in more time at Redskins Park and complaining less. It helps, though, that the one thing he complained the most about — too many practices in full pads — isn't a problem under Shanahan, who limits contact to keep the players fresh.
"I always asked to be out of pads," Portis said. "Now I don't have to ask."
The Redskins are making Portis wear one of the new helmets with extra cushioning designed to help prevent concussions. He wasn't happy about it at first, but he's getting used to it.
"It's actually a comfortable helmet," he said. "I don't know if it's going to prevent concussions or anything else. I'm not going to go out and play cautious. I'm going to go out and throw my body around like I've been doing and leave it in God's hands."
A year ago, Portis was talking about hitting the 10,000-yard mark and passing John Riggins as the franchise's all-time rusher, but his injury left him short of both goals. Portis took a potshot at Riggins last year, saying it was "really not hard to be a great running back" when Riggins played because those Redskins teams were so talented. That was actually a bit mild compared to some of Portis' previous at-large criticisms, which have aimed at everyone from LaVar Arrington to former coach Jim Zorn to his own offensive line.
This time, when Riggins' name was mentioned, Portis didn't say a thing about the Hall of Fame back and instead downplayed his focus on the record.
"Every time I look forward to doing something, something negative happens," said Portis, who turned 29 last week. "I think milestones are going to matter the most when it's all said and done, when I walk away from football and actually get a chance to look back and say, 'Wow, I did that.' ... When it's all said and done, I think I'll be a part of elite company, and I'm cool with that."
Notes: Shanahan announced his captains Thursday, and his method is about as complicated as the Electoral College. McNabb (offense) and LB London Fletcher (defense) were elected to serve the entire season. LB Lorenzo Alexander was elected special teams captain for Game 1, an honor that changes weekly depending on whom is chosen the special teams player of the game. After eight games, the players will then elected another set of captains for offense, defense and special teams to serve with McNabb and Fletcher for the rest of the season. ... Only three players did not take part in the full practice Thursday: LB Andre Carter (illness), S Kareem Moore (knee) and LB Perry Riley (foot). Carter is expected to practice Friday.
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