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.
"I want to make him a more three-dimensional player," Saunders said. "I want to exploit everything that he does well. One of the ways that players become invested in what you're trying to teach is to give them input. Each week, I intend on asking Clinton to give me the five best types of runs he likes against that week's opponents. I want to hear from him, without taking away from the power aspects of his game, like pass blocking."
None of this was lost on Portis. In addition to yardage, Portis last season set a team record with nine 100-yard rushing games. He finished last season with five consecutive 100-yard games.
"I go back to Marshall Faulk. When Marshall Faulk was in his prime, this was the offense he was in," Portis said. "When Priest Holmes was in his prime, this was the offense he was in. For Larry Johnson to have a breakout season, this is the offense he was in. So I don't see any reason why Clinton Portis shouldn't continue that success."
It was the kind of synergy to which Portis has become accustomed.
"In Denver we did that, and here last year we did that. Having Coach Saunders be willing to negotiate is great because whatever he calls is what we have to run," Portis said. "Having him feeling comfortable with me, comfortable enough to trust my decision-making and let me carry the load is an honor."
Yesterday, Portis spoke more of the battle of the season than its potentially lucrative rewards.
"We've got a tough schedule. With the defenses we're playing, there's going to be a lot of grind games in there," he said. "Any time you're in the NFC East, that's six grind-out games."
As for his playful alter ego, Portis said he will reserve judgment on whether or when sidekicks will be reintroduced.
"Who knows? Anything is possible," he said. "Once we get into the grind of the season, get into the mood, see how people are around here and how morale is, we'll have fun. Dressing up is part of it. We'll have fun."