Redskins Wait, Hope On Portis

By Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 13, 2008

After watching running back Clinton Portis receive treatment on his injured left knee yesterday at Redskins Park, quarterback Jason Campbell expressed optimism Portis would play Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys at FedEx Field.

"You have to think positive," Campbell said. "It's just harder if you don't."

The Redskins acknowledged things would be more difficult for them against an NFC East rival, and in their final seven games, if Portis -- the NFL's second-leading rusher -- is sidelined or slowed because of a sprained medial collateral ligament. Primary backup Ladell Betts might miss his fourth straight game because of a sprained left knee, wide receiver Santana Moss is slowly recovering from a sore hamstring and left tackle Chris Samuels still is experiencing knee pain.

Although several first-string players figure to be at less than full strength against Dallas, the Redskins must rebound on offense after their poor performance in a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 3, coaches and players said, and Portis's presence could provide the difference in a turnaround or another setback.

"In this game, man, you're going to be put in situations where you're not going to have all your men at all times, guys that you depend on at all times," Moss said. "All we can do is prepare, prepare to be without [Portis], and if we get him, that's a plus for us.

"Clinton one of those guys that you never know. He can be down for the whole week and go out there and be Clinton. All we can do is just wait and see what happens, but I won't count him out until I know he's out."

Portis sat out practice yesterday and did not speak with reporters. On Monday, Coach Jim Zorn said Portis's chances of playing against Dallas were "50-50," and during his weekly appearance on John Thompson's radio show Tuesday, Portis revealed he has a second-degree sprain.

"Right now, I can't straighten it out," he said Tuesday of his left leg. "I just started bending it today. So hopefully by the end of the week. We've got five days, so hopefully I'll be ready."

The Redskins plan to hold out Portis from practice again today in an effort to maximize his time in the training room, Zorn said, and yesterday "he could straighten out his leg, so we were hip-hip-hooraying, if you will. I know it's going to be a game-time decision for him. That's pretty much a lock there."

Portis has been fitted for a knee brace, but Zorn said he could opt not to wear it should he play. "He wants to be back, and he's working hard to be back," Zorn said.

With 995 yards rushing, a five-yard average per carry and seven touchdowns, Portis has shouldered much on offense in helping Washington (6-3) remain in contention for the division title behind the first-place New York Giants (8-1). Losing Portis for even a game could affect severely the Redskins' chances of securing a postseason berth.

"Clinton is such a big part of everything we do," Campbell said. "Right now, you know that he's probably not even 60 percent. You'd take Clinton over a lot of guys at 60 percent just because of how hard he plays.

"Hopefully, he gets up to at least 80 percent and he can get out there and help us."

In the 23-6 loss to Pittsburgh, Portis gained 51 yards -- his lowest total of the season -- on 13 rushes, and the Redskins had 221 net yards.

Portis had gained at least 120 yards in his previous five games, joining O.J. Simpson as the only players in NFL history to rush for at least 120 yards in five straight games twice in their careers.

Betts was back at practice yesterday in a limited role for the first time since he injured his knee in a 19-17 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 12, but his status remains unclear for the upcoming game.

"He made cuts going to his left, which it is his left knee, and I was impressed," Zorn said. "The burst wasn't there yet, but just the fact that he was in there, pushing off and making cuts, that's was encouraging. We'll see how he continues to improve."

Second on the team in rushing with 156 yards, Betts is almost as ferocious in pass protection as Portis, running backs coach Stump Mitchell said. If Portis and Betts sit out, Shaun Alexander and special teams standout Rock Cartwright could share backfield duties in a "community position," Zorn said.

With Washington's running game unproductive against Pittsburgh, which has the league's top defense, more was needed from the passing game. Moss's injury, however, limited Zorn's options. The Redskins had no deep threat, and Campbell was sacked a season-high seven times.

Moss, who had two catches for 14 yards, said he relaxed during the bye week, and his hamstring feels "better than it felt the week we played Pittsburgh. I knew it was going to take a little time to rest it. Now, I don't have that feeling I had Pittsburgh week. I feel more like my hamstring is healed.

"Now, I just got to get the strength, and that comes day to day. Monday, I didn't feel this good. It's just going to be how I handle my situation, how [team trainers] handle it, and just make sure I do everything the right way. No reason to go out there and be crazy. You can't go from sitting down to hauling tail."

Washington's leading receiver with 44 catches for 672 yards (a 15.3-yard average) and five touchdowns, Moss had 145 yards on eight catches during a 26-24 victory over Dallas on Sept. 28. Portis had 121 yards rushing in that game as part of a balanced attack that produced 381 net yards.

The running game could be weakened if Portis and Betts sit out, but "I'm going to see what I see regardless out there," said Moss, who practiced fully and expects to be double-teamed often Sunday. "I'm pretty sure Dallas ain't going to let me run free and do nothing too extravagant. Hopefully, they will give me single [coverage] a little bit."

How well Samuels's knee responds could be a major factor in whether Campbell has time to throw. Samuels -- the team's top offensive lineman -- sat out a 25-17 victory over the Detroit Lions on Oct. 26 after he felt pain in his right knee during pregame warmups.

An MRI exam revealed no structural damage, a team spokesman said, but showed inflammation of the cartilage behind his knee.

"It is what it is," Samuels said. "It's been a long season, I'm just trying to fight through to make it, but in my mind I'm ready to play."

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