Portis's Season Could Be Over

Clinton Portis evades Eagles' Juqua Thomas here, before breaking his right hand on Sunday.
Clinton Portis evades Eagles' Juqua Thomas here, before breaking his right hand on Sunday. (By Jonathan Newton -- The Washington Post)

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By Howard Bryant
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Any hope that Clinton Portis could return this season dimmed yesterday when the running back said he expected to be sidelined twice as long as the Washington Redskins originally announced and the team considered placing him on injured reserve, according to a source.

Placing Portis on injured reserve would make him ineligible to play for the rest of the season, and a source said the Redskins yesterday were debating resting Portis for the year, allowing injuries to his neck, ankle and shoulder -- and now his hand -- to heal and keeping him on the active roster in the hopes that a 3-6 team can make a playoff run.

On Sunday, Portis broke his hand in the first quarter of the 27-3 loss in Philadelphia. Running around left end with 3 minutes 12 seconds remaining, Portis attempted to stiff arm Eagles safety Brian Dawkins. Portis's right hand appeared to be caught in Dawkins's face mask as Dawkins made the tackle. He left the game immediately and did not return.

On Monday, three screws were surgically inserted into the fourth metacarpal bone -- the bone that runs through the ring finger -- and director of sports medicine Bubba Tyer said Portis likely would miss three to four weeks.

Portis appeared on John Thompson's WTEM radio show yesterday and said he was told after surgery that he would miss six to eight weeks. Six weeks from the day of his surgery would be Dec. 27, three days before the season finale at home against the New York Giants.

Portis, who was not at Redskins Park yesterday and could not be reached for comment, leads the NFC with seven touchdowns, but his 523 yards on 127 carries put him on pace for a career-low 930 yards. Portis has never rushed for fewer than 1,315 yards in a season.

With Portis's status in doubt the responsibility for reviving a struggling running game will fall partly on backup Ladell Betts. The Redskins will also for the first time this season give an extended look to T.J. Duckett, whose acquisition in a three-way trade with Atlanta and Denver has become controversial because he has been used sparingly.

"When I heard it was a break, I just told myself mentally to prepare to carry the load for the rest of the season," Betts said. "With a break you never know. You can say it will take this amount of time, but it all depends on how fast you heal."

When Al Saunders arrived as associate head coach-offense in January, Portis figured to be his biggest beneficiary. Elite runners Marshall Faulk, Priest Holmes and Larry Johnson had all produced top seasons in Saunders's offense. In the spring, Saunders had envisioned Portis thriving in an offense predicated upon the running back touching the ball in the running and passing games.

But from the start, the connection did not seem to work. Portis separated his shoulder on the first series of the first preseason game Aug. 13 at Cincinnati while tackling Bengals defensive back Keiwan Ratliff. At the time, Portis said he did not believe his shoulder would be right all season.

After days of intrigue regarding his status, Portis played on opening night Sept. 11 against Minnesota, though it was clear he was not completely healthy.

Meanwhile, Portis's injuries made it nearly impossible for Saunders to find a comfort zone with him because there were weeks when Portis practiced sparingly. Following the Redskins' 36-22 loss to Indianapolis Oct. 22, Portis was wearing a walking cast on his left ankle and did not practice.

The experiment suffered from an unevenness that was never fully corrected, and Betts, not Portis, has had his best season.

Portis has carried the ball more than 20 times in only two games, and in only one -- a 27-carry, 112-yard effort against Jacksonville on Oct. 1 in what was the Redskins' most physical game -- has he carried more than 25 times.

Should the Redskins deactivate Portis, the move would open a roster spot and the Redskins brought in about a half-dozen players for workouts. Included in the group was former Detroit Lions linebacker James Davis.


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