- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Last season wasn’t enough. Not even close.

Clinton Portis did manage to post the sixth-best rushing season in the history of the Washington Redskins but that wasn’t enough to live up to the expectations of him leading a Redskins resurgence in coach Joe Gibbs’ first year back with the team.

After all, the Redskins traded away Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey to get Portis, who rushed for more than 1,500 yards in each of his two seasons with the Denver Broncos and had a 64-yard touchdown run on his first carry as a Redskin.

Portis gained 1,315 yards in 15 games last season — a performance that seemed disappointing even though he was working in an offense that scored its fewest points since 1993 and he came within 117 yards of Stephen Davis’ club record for rushing.

While the coaching staff spent the offseason in the film room, Portis was one floor below in the weight room. He decided he needed to be more than the team’s biggest-name player. He also wanted to be its leader, and that would only come by spending the offseason around his teammates.

“I just wanted to improve myself,” Portis said. “I felt like last year — which I hope was my worst year ever at 1,300 yards — I needed to bulk up. I needed to learn more about this system. I needed to take a bigger leadership role.

“I would love to be gone [on vacation], but I took it upon myself to be around, to be a face.”

Portis will be part of a reconstructed Redskins offense. Washington added two speedy receivers, installed quarterback Patrick Ramsey as the starter and watched right tackle Jon Jansen recover from a torn Achilles tendon.

Still, the Redskins have revolved around a dominant runner since Gibbs’ first tenure as the club’s coach. From John Riggins to Davis, winning came on the ground.

The Redskins will spread the offense more, but Portis remains its foundation. It doesn’t matter if he finds his old running lanes from the Broncos’ offense or staggers across the line trying to force an opening. North-south, east-west — just give him the ball, as the Redskins did in his 171-yard performance against the Chicago Bears or his 148-yard efforts against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants.

“I think we’re going to run four go-routes and give me draws,” he said, joking. “That’s what I’m for. You can’t cover everyone out there. I keep telling Coach let’s just run go-routes and let me run the draw. Let’s see how we match up. We ain’t fooling nobody.”

Gibbs knows Portis wants the ball even more than he did last season, when he carried a career-high 343 times. However, the new offense is about balance. Portis will get his chances because of his versatility and the game plan.

“It’s tweaking some things,” Gibbs said of the new scheme. “It’s more of changes we felt would help the overall offense, and it does fit Clinton. I think he can run any kind of play. He’s a very physical, inside runner. That’s one thing about him I admire, is he’s very physical. He’s not a 240-pound back, but he’s very physical.”

Running backs coach Earnest Byner knows changing teams isn’t easy for star players. Byner rushed for more than 1,000 yards with the Cleveland Browns, a milestone he didn’t reach with the Redskins until his second season with the team in 1990.

“Clinton wants more — we’ll see that this year,” Byner said. “In reality, we want the guy that wants the ball all the time. We want receivers that want the ball all the time and a quarterback that wants to throw it all the time, but we have to have balance.

“This guy is an unselfish guy. He coaches other people out here with different adjustments we have to make. He’s totally, totally about the team. It’s maturation. … That’s the thing I’m seeing from Clinton: leadership.”

Teammates have noticed Portis’ drive. It provides confidence that an offensive turnaround will start from the backfield.

“I think Clinton’s hungry for a big year,” Ramsey said. “Without question, he’s capable of producing that.”

Maybe it’s more about patience than firepower. Portis felt the Redskins tried to outmuscle opponents last year rather than finesse them. This time, he figures the yards may have to come in bulk rather than breakaways.

“I felt like a home run hitter last year,” Portis said. “You couldn’t have told me after that first play I wasn’t going to have 2,000 yards, but we never ran that play again in the season. If I’m not a home run hitter, I’m going to the five [yards] and four [yards], and I’m going to get my yards that way.”

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