By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 6, 2006
A murmur began rippling through the auditorium at Redskins Park a few minutes into the weekly Wednesday morning review of game film. With the entire roster of players and coaches assembled, running back Clinton Portis's exploits flashed on the huge screen, but the featured play had nothing to do with his 112-yard rushing effort.
Portis's blocking on the Redskins' opening score in the victory over Jacksonville on Sunday was the most talked-about highlight of the week. He delivered three clutch hits, pulled himself off the turf several times and sprinted more than 55 yards to help wide receiver Santana Moss into the end zone. Since returning from shoulder injuries two weeks ago, Portis has revitalized Washington's offense and its season, through his rushing and pass receiving, as well as more subtle contributions such as his blocking.
When all is at its best for the Redskins (2-2), the team takes on Portis's persona. There is a swagger to its play. Like the smallish back -- 5 feet 10, 212 pounds, perhaps -- who exults in confronting 330-pound linemen, the Redskins exude grit at the line of scrimmage and outmuscle opponents. Sunday's game embodied that attitude, and Portis's blocks on Moss's touchdown -- he eliminated two linemen and one cornerback -- will not soon be forgotten at Redskins Park.
"That right there is the bedrock of everything we do," running backs coach Earnest Byner said. "That's everything we want to be."
The Redskins have amassed 976 total yards in consecutive victories with Portis, who set a franchise record with 1,516 rushing yards last season, at full strength. Portis has three touchdowns in two games and 313 total yards. What cannot be quantified is the emotional tone he sets when the ball is not in his hands.
On Washington's second drive Sunday, the team faced a third and five from its 45, with Portis lined up to quarterback Mark Brunell's right in a shotgun formation. Portis darted left to the line of scrimmage and knocked lineman Rob Meier (6-5, 298 pounds) out of the play. When Portis looked up, he found that Moss had made a seven-yard catch and began a full sprint across midfield, passing Moss at the Jacksonville 40.
"I saw one of their guys was going to cut across my path," Moss said. "So I just cut behind Portis."
With Moss drifting over the left hash marks, Portis saw wide receiver Brandon Lloyd giving cornerback Brian Williams a shove. As Williams was falling at the 30, Portis launched himself forward, plowing his right shoulder into the defender's chest, pinning him to the grass. Portis tumbled cleats-over-head, bounced back to his feet at the 25, and exploded into a sprint.
"It's adrenaline, man," Portis said. "When the adrenaline is flowing, what happens on the field, I can't say, 'Oh, I can do that again.' "
With Moss racing the final 13 yards to the end zone, Portis located the one player with a chance of derailing him, tackle John Henderson. "Once I went and got the corner, it's like, 'I need to find somebody else,' " Portis said. "And I just saw big number 98 running downfield, so I'm like, 'Well, guess I've got to go and get him and see how my shoulder holds up.' " Portis lined up Henderson (6-7, 325) and thrust his entire body before him, casting Henderson aside as Moss scored.
"That lineman had to be about 330 pounds and C.P. just threw his body -- literally threw his body -- into him and got the better half of that block," fullback Mike Sellers said. "I don't know how he does it. He's giving up like 100 pounds and the guy still got knocked back. That amazes me. That's C.P. If he doesn't have the ball in his hands, he's going to find someone to blow up."
By this point in Wednesday's film replay, there was some hooting and hollering in the auditorium, players said. Several defensive players patted Portis on the back, and when the Redskins broke into positional meetings, Byner opened the running backs session with a more detailed study of Portis's blocking, reviewing it in slow motion on the large projection board.
"We kept going back and forth, back and forth, looking at everything that was going on," Byner said. "First of all, the picture on the white board is pretty, and then when you get a guy that does something exceptional the way Clinton did, it makes it all the more glorifying."
Portis's presence in the running game has been fundamental to Washington's offensive turnaround as well. In recent weeks, the Redskins have resembled their 2005 form, when they punished defenses with sweeps to win five straight games and reach the postseason for the first time since 1999.
For the first time this season, Portis was back in last year's off-the-field mode yesterday, donning the look of movie character Napoleon Dynamite, with tight jeans, a wig and wearing a "Vote for Santana" T-shirt, Portis's first appearance in costume in 2006 after doing so throughout last season's playoff push.
The New York Giants have been solid against the run this season, and they stifled Portis on four carries for nine yards the last time Washington visited the Meadowlands. But even if he is stopped Sunday while trying to rush, Portis figures to make his presence felt, one way or another.
"He's the best back we've ever had without the ball in his hands," said Joe Bugel, assistant head coach-offense, who was with Coach Joe Gibbs during his first stint in Washington. "He's the real deal. Sunday afternoons, he loves that. That's his day. He thinks 92,000 people came to see him play, so he's Mr. Hustle."