Portis Ready for the Challenge

Running back Clinton Portis gets his licks in against a practice dummy during Redskins training camp yesterday.
Running back Clinton Portis gets his licks in against a practice dummy during Redskins training camp yesterday. (By Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)
By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Having started a phenomenon just as the Washington Redskins grew interesting last season, running back Clinton Portis was followed during the offseason by the aliases that turned his weekly press conferences into a raucous sideshow. Whether it was Southeast Jerome, Dollar Bill or Sheriff Gonna Getcha, the appetite of his legions had been whetted and Portis, oddly, could not escape himself.

"Everywhere I went," he said yesterday after the second of two practices at Redskins Park. "I think I went to church and people were looking at me like, 'Where's your costume at?' I try to come thank God as me."

In addition to totaling a club-record 1,516 yards, Portis's creations gave the driving Redskins a funny, offbeat face last season. But with LaVar Arrington gone after six years of being the face of the franchise, Portis enters this season with another title. He is quite possibly the most recognizable and popular player.

As such, he spoke yesterday for the first time merely as Portis, multiple personalities aside for the moment, sporting a wrap on his right ankle after suffering a minor injury in the morning practice, and smarting more mentally than physically after absorbing the hardest hit of the day in the second practice. Portis took an inside handoff only to be drilled in the chest and decked by his close friend and University of Miami cohort Sean Taylor.

"I'll get him back tomorrow," Portis said. "Count on that."

Like his offensive teammates, Portis sees an opportunity. He did not say he lost considerable weight in the offseason, but offered a one-sentence appraisal of his conditioning by saying, "I look good, don't I?"

If quarterback Mark Brunell sees the season as possibly a last, best chance to play for an elusive championship, Portis appeared to approach the upcoming year as part of a rightful progression. He said he has no personal goals that cannot be immediately translated into team success.

"Winning the NFC East. Win the NFC Championship game. Winning the Super Bowl," Portis said. "Rushing yards don't matter to me as long as I get a ring. If we get a ring, I'm sure my rushing yards will be up to par where they need to be."

During the weeks leading up to the free-agent signing period, Coach Joe Gibbs often referred to Portis as the team's "other general manager." Portis often suggested to management which players the team should sign.

"I'm excited about it. We have Brandon Lloyd, whom I felt besides Reggie Wayne was one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL," Portis said. "Having [Antwaan] Randle El here, someone to help Santana [Moss], and the promise of Taylor Jacobs. Having Chris Cooley with Mark. The team is just excited. Having Coach [Al] Saunders come in, and everyone is fired up. Everyone wants to make sure we continue the success that he's been having. That's the pressure that we put on ourselves."

But perhaps more than any other player, Portis appeared to view the arrival of Saunders as a welcome invitation to join an impressive lineage that began with James Brooks and Chuck Muncie under Saunders in San Diego. For all of Saunders's devotion to movement, formations, and a voluminous playbook, Saunders runs a power football offense that begins with the running back.

Through the first two days of camp, Portis displayed his signature style: low and level, followed by a powerful burst. Saunders said one of his goals is to make Portis, in more ways than one, a go-to guy, just as Gibbs has the previous two years. Saunders also knows what he has in Portis, who once scored five rushing touchdowns against Kansas City. The Chiefs' offensive coordinator that day was Saunders.

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