Redskins, Portis Keep Everyone On a Knee-to-Know Basis

By Mike Wise
Thursday, October 4, 2007

Let's see: The recurring knee tendinitis Clinton Portis was supposed to be battling is not really recurring tendinitis at all. Turns out it's a Grade 1 sprain, the least serious of sprains but yet enough of an ailment for a $50 million tailback to undergo treatment during the bye week and wear a sleeve around the knee so it doesn't swell.

But the Redskins want you to know that's not why Portis was not on the field during the first-and-goal debacle against the New York Giants nearly two weeks ago. Had nothing to do with Ladell Betts's two fruitless carries. Honest. Really.

It has been another one of those Who-Said-What-and-When weeks at Redskins Park, the kind of mini-drama that has come to embody Coach Joe Gibbs's second tenure as coach. It wasn't like this when he coached before, when there was no blogosphere, no 24-7 sports-talk radio debating the merits of the cover-2.

"I probably shouldn't be in the injury-diagnosis business," Gibbs said yesterday in Ashburn. "I should probably say, 'A guy missed some plays and you guys go talk to Bubba.' "

Bubba is Bubba Tyer, the Redskins' director of sports medicine who essentially threw himself under the bus for the miscommunication involving Portis's knee sprain. Gibbs on Monday termed the injury recurring tendinitis, which kept Portis out of training camp and preseason games. Tyer said he didn't talk to Gibbs to clarify the injury before Gibbs spoke to reporters, leading to the confusion.

As to why Portis wasn't named on the did-not-practice list on Monday of the bye week, Gibbs said, "At that point, if you had asked me if he was going to go out and practice that week I'd have said, 'Yeah.' "

This wasn't taken lightly in Skinsville, where such mistakes often are viewed as senior moments by a staff having a hard time sharing information on a number of issues dating from Portis's health last season.

On John Thompson's WTEM radio show yesterday afternoon, a clip splicing four different Redskins voices weighed in on the genesis of Portis's injury. Every coach or player had a slightly different take. The music overlaying the clip? "Lies."

It was a good bit, although conspiracy is not afoot here. Nor is deceit by Gibbs or the organization. For to be deceitful, one would have to purposely deceive someone. And if they had to do it over, there is no justifiable reason for not disclosing Portis's injury the day after the Giants loss.

Gibbs would have headed off at least three days of scrutiny as to why Portis wasn't in the game at the end. Though everyone is in agreement that the injury did not prevent him from being on the field, Portis took himself out in the fourth quarter of the game. That had to come into play in the coaches' minds as the team marched downfield to possibly tie the game and send it into overtime.

Disclosing Portis's injury, especially after all the amateur psychology employed after the Redskins failed to score on first and goal from the Giants 1-yard line, would have made sense -- even if the suck-it-up Portis said he wasn't hurt after the game.

"I didn't think it was that big a deal," Gibbs said.

He's not alone. Reporters covering the team on a regular basis didn't think much of the latest information gaffe, either. "Another day around here," one veteran reporter called it. Of the fuss on talk radio: "They've turned this into the grassy knoll," said a team official, who asked not to be named.

Indeed, part of this is what happens when there is a beast to feed and a coach too accommodating to say no. Gibbs has a point when he says, "When you guys are hungry for stuff, it's whatever can make a deal go."

But the reason people wonder about conspiracy theories is because, often, no two people say the same thing in Ashburn. Case in point: When people wanted to know why Portis was not on the field for the final series of plays, Gibbs said afterward that Portis and Betts were "interchangeable."

Monday morning after the game, Al Saunders, the associate head coach who calls the plays, said that he was unsure if Portis was available from his perch in the booth.

Gibbs detailed the end of the game in his news conference that evening, mentioning that running backs coach Earnest Byner sent Betts into the game to throw off a Giants defense used to Portis running the same plays.

A week later, we learned about Portis being banged up, though it's unclear exactly when it happened and it was unclear for a while what the actual injury was.

Ten days later, there's not a lot of clarity. What gives?

"I don't believe in hidin' stuff," Gibbs said. "I mean, I'm not going to put out that Santana Moss is out because I don't think he's out. I don't think there's a game there. I don't make stuff up and hide things. I think we're pretty open with things that go on around here. We try to be up front about it."

Bottom line, Portis is almost certainly going to play against Detroit on Sunday, and this little brouhaha will blow over. And to put too much heat on Tyer would be unfair. Every time he gave an injury update on Portis a year ago, Portis would come up with his own injury update.

Gibbs has a right not to reveal everything about his team. In fact, to be a successful coach in the NFL you have to become a good fibber now and then. Ask Bill Parcells or Bill Belichick. It's a prerequisite.

But if you're the Hall of Fame coach of the Washington Redskins, every syllable is a big deal.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company