On First Day of Camp, Portis's Voice Also Carries

By Michael Wilbon
Tuesday, August 2, 2005

The thing about any training camp, especially the first few days, is almost every assessment is absurdly optimistic, which is why it was so refreshing to listen to Clinton Portis on the first day of Redskins training camp yesterday.

An NFL camp isn't the place you expect to find a realist, but Portis was exactly that on the first day. On the possibility of Sean Taylor's trial date getting moved, Portis said, "They put Michael Jackson's trial back, and he ain't got a concert any time soon." On the unhappiness that led to Laveranues Coles being shown the door, he said, "He was just upset he wasn't used the way he thought he would be."

Portis will never be the official voice of the Washington Redskins, but as camp kicks off, he's the voice we probably ought to pay close attention to, if for no other reason than he is quite happy to, as the kids say, keep it real.

The Redskins, like any team in the league, have plenty of issues worth examining, whether we're talking about how Gregg Williams and his defensive coaches plan to replace Fred Smoot and Antonio Pierce or how soon rookie quarterback Jason Campbell will be able to contribute.

But the No. 1 topic for discussion is and should be: Have the Redskins fixed the offense? That's where we start, updating the offense by, oh, 18 or 19 years. "A year ago," Portis said, "we found out it didn't work."

So what now? "We're doing different stuff. We tried to be a power team and bully over people. . . . We've got big guys but they're athletic," he said, speaking of the group in general, but Randy Thomas and Chris Samuels specifically. "I think it's an athletic team . . . now, we're not putting them at a disadvantage."

Portis talked about the failure to get Coles deep: "We had one of the fastest guys in the league, and we didn't run a lot of go-routes."

He talked about the mistake of trying to force the issue of power football with players not built for that: "You have myself at 205 pounds, trying to be Jamal Lewis," the Ravens' running back who weighs 245 pounds. "So I think now our scheme suits our offense."

Don't think for a second Portis was being an egomaniac; he wasn't. He simply answered questions, candidly, about what it is the Redskins have to do differently this year, starting this week. If you want sugar and spice, Portis ain't your guy. He'll tell you flat-out that he was sure the old offense would work a year ago, how he kept thinking, "This is the game. This is the game it's gonna work." But it never was the game.

A season of 14 great weeks of defense was wasted for the most part because Joe Gibbs, one of the great innovators in NFL history, didn't figure out in time how to best utilize Portis, didn't figure out in time how to stretch the field. Asked what plays he would like to run, Portis said: "Four go routes and let me run the draw. . . . That's what I'm looking for."

Impractical, but honest. And maybe the candor will force the changes necessary.

That's not what Portis was expecting when he walked through the door.

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