Portis Sounds Off on Zorn For Benching, Play-Calling
Redskins Coach Defends Decision On Running Back

By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 10, 2008

"We got a genius for a head coach, I don't know, I'm sure he on top of things.

He's got everything figured out. Hey, that's up to him. All I can do is when he calls a play is go out and try to execute to the best of my ability."

Redskins running back Clinton Portis

A day after Washington Redskins Coach Jim Zorn said Clinton Portis's lack of practice contributed to his benching during Sunday's 24-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the running back fired back yesterday, pointedly criticizing the coach's communication and decision-making.

In his weekly radio appearance on WTEM-980's "The John Thompson Show," Portis dismissed as "B.S." Zorn's suggestion that missing practice had hurt the execution of his assignments. He said he was at every meeting and every practice last week, noted teammates had played on Sunday after missing practice the week before and guaranteed he knows the playbook better than any player besides the quarterbacks.

"When have I missed a meeting?" Portis asked rhetorically. "Let me start missing meetings. Let me not come out [to] practice, let me sit my [rear] in the training room if I don't know what's going on. . . . If my coaches don't feel like I can get it done, put me on the sidelines. You feel like I can help this team, put me on the field, and that's all I've got to say about it. . . . I don't have to confront them. They know what they've got. They know what's standing on the sideline."

Appearing on the same station an hour later, Zorn said he understood why the star running back felt like he had been benched and repeated his earlier explanation that backup Ladell Betts was more precisely releasing from pass protection into route running.

Portis "was getting out on routes, but it wasn't exact and quick," Zorn said. "I thought, 'Okay, here's an opportunity for us to get Ladell in, who has practiced, and he knows it just because he's rehearsed it, rehearsed it.' I think [Portis is] a confident player, and he would believe that he could do it without reps. I just made the decision not to give him that chance."

Portis, 27, the NFL's third-leading rusher with 1,260 yards, has been hampered by injuries throughout the season, including knee, hip and neck ailments. He attends every practice at Redskins Park but has rarely participated in drills on the field for the past month.

By turns cynical, passionate and resigned during his radio appearance, Portis referred to Zorn as a "genius" when asked about possible offensive adjustments, and sarcastically suggested perhaps he should be put on season-ending injured reserve.

"If I can run through the week, I'd practice," he said. "If I can't, then I ain't. And I'm not gonna force myself to go onto a field and do something crazy and then all of the sudden I'm out. What I need to be around for is Sundays, and that's what I try to be around for. So I mean, if you've got a problem with me not practicing and can't do it that way, maybe you feel like you need to sever ties, split ties with me? Split ties with me. But don't sit here and throw me out like I don't pay attention, like I don't know what's going on, like I'm making mistakes, I'm the problem."

Portis led the NFL in rushing for much of this season, but his production has flagged as the offense stagnated during the team's 1-4 skid. He rushed for 143 yards against the Seattle Seahawks on Nov. 23. But he managed just 22 in a loss to the Giants on Nov. 30, and on Sunday had 11 carries for 32 yards, including only one second-half carry. He spent most of the second half on the bench.

When asked about the benching, Zorn has cited Washington's second-half deficit against the Ravens and the need to throw combined with Betts's pass protection and route-running preparation. It was an explanation Portis emphatically rejected.

"One day it's, 'Chip [block] on your way out,' then if you don't chip and you get out [into a pass route] and the quarterback gets sacked, it's like, 'Oh, you need to help this man out,' " Portis said. "So they don't know what they want. They want you to chip, they want you to block, [quarterback Jason Campbell is] on his [rear] all game long, you're trying to stay in and help, and then it's, 'Oh, you should have gone out, they was coming to you.' "

Zorn and Portis have previously clashed this season; television cameras showed the coach chewing out Portis during a win Oct. 26 over the Detroit Lions. That was explained as a miscommunication about substitution issues. Yesterday, Portis again expressed confusion about the lines of communication.

"If anybody got a problem with me, they need to talk to me. I don't know what's going on," he said. "You know, when things going good, you're getting praised. I don't know if people getting aggravated with me getting attention. I don't know what it is."

Portis said he was "totally healthy after not playing against Baltimore," and Zorn agreed, saying he expected a full week of practice out of his running back. The coach said Portis would be used in his normal role as an every-down back Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, a game the 7-6 Redskins must win to maintain their increasingly slim playoff hopes.

Portis was also asked how he would like to be used going forward. "It ain't rocket science how to use me," he said.

"They can figure that out. If they want to put the ball in my hands, I can try to help the team win. They don't, I'll try to do whatever I can. If I need to cheer Ladell on, I'll cheer Ladell on. I'm not gonna be bitter about the situation."

Staff writer Barry Svrluga contributed to this report.

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