By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Redskins Coach Jim Zorn said the absence of star running back Clinton Portis during all but one series in the second half of Sunday night's 24-10 loss in Baltimore was due not only to the situation in the game -- the Redskins trailed by two touchdowns -- but to Portis's inability to practice during the previous week.
Portis, the NFL's third-leading rusher, had only one carry in the second half and finished with 32 yards rushing, his second-lowest output of the season. His first-quarter fumble was scooped up by Baltimore safety Ed Reed and returned for a touchdown that put the Redskins in a 14-0 hole.
Portis suggested in television interviews as he came off the field that he had been benched for only his second fumble of the season.
Yesterday, Zorn reiterated that was not the case and said the coaching staff wanted to give backup Ladell Betts -- who practiced full speed last week -- playing time.
"What happened is, as we got down, we wanted to give Ladell a series," Zorn said. "And as he was running the ball and running routes and blocking, we gave him another series. . . . We felt like he was doing just fine, especially because we were going to have to throw the ball a little bit more.
"And without Clinton practicing, and Ladell practicing all of those protection schemes and route-running, we just felt very confident that he could [perform], and he did. He played well in what we called him to do."
Betts had six carries in the game for just three yards but caught three passes for 57 yards. Portis, who has battled a variety of injuries this season, was slow to get out on some pass routes because he was preoccupied with pass blocking, Zorn said. Betts did not have that same hesitance.
"There was a couple times early in the game when Clinton was in there on pass [protection] that he should've gone out where he didn't quite get out -- trying to do extra to help our pass protection," Zorn said. "But we needed him out because [there was] just a four-man rush. So with Ladell, who understood and actually practiced all week, he was the guy who was actually getting out."
Portis was unavailable for comment yesterday. Zorn said he had not spoken to his running back about the situation. Sunday night, Portis laughed off some questions about his not playing, but said Zorn did not owe him an explanation.
"He ain't got to talk to me about anything," Portis said. "He's the head coach. I'm a player."
Portis, though, guaranteed he would practice tomorrow even before Zorn drew the apparent correlation between his lack of practice and his diminished playing time. And Zorn said Portis would continue to be the Redskins' "bell cow."
"We got to keep Clinton going, because even though he sat on the bench and was frustrated, he's going to be far more healthy and be able to practice all week this week, which is going to help us down this run," Zorn said. "So even though he didn't get in there and help us run the ball, we were more in a passing mode in that second half being 14 points down.
"I thought that was the right choice. And now we have him, and now he can practice, and he can be in all those situations, and we can get after it in these last three games."