Portis reflects on his subpar start

By Rick Maese
Thursday, November 5, 2009

For Clinton Portis, there's a bright side to the Washington Redskins' dismal start. The running back stopped short of calling the current season the most frustrating of his career, though in contrast, he says all the ones that came before it look a bit better.

"You appreciate all the other seasons you had. You sit and think, like, 'Oh man, I had a horrible season.' But this is really a horrible season," Portis said. "It makes the seasons that you had success that much better."

In his eight seasons in the league, Portis hasn't been through many seasons like this one. His own struggles have mirrored those of the team. Portis has rushed for one touchdown and 490 yards thus far, the second-fewest yards he's managed through the first seven games of any season.

Just a few weeks ago, Portis was proclaiming that "it's only a matter of time before I have a 200-yard game." On Wednesday he conceded that he isn't performing up to his potential.

"If I felt like I've executed the way I executed in the past, I don't think we'd be 2-5," Portis said. "At 2-5, everybody has to look at themselves. I can't tell you nobody on this team who can go and say, 'Well, I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing.' Even if you are, you need to do extra."

As a team, the Redskins have failed to establish a ground attack in a single game this season. Only four NFL teams have attempted fewer running plays, only four have managed fewer rushing yards and only one -- the Arizona Cardinals -- have fewer than the Redskins' two rushing touchdowns. By this point, the Redskins realize there are no quick fixes.

"It's not like we had a special meeting on Monday to figure out what was wrong. We know as an offensive staff we're not putting up points," Portis said. "We know offensively we're just not being productive."

As for Portis, only once in his career has he got off to a worse start, and he's never had fewer rushing touchdowns at this point in the season. He has just one on the ground entering Sunday's game at Atlanta. At this point last season, he had 818 yards and seven touchdowns on 163 carries.

The only season his numbers were worse through seven games was 2007, when Portis had just 433 yards (though he did have five touchdowns at this point that season). In the team's eighth game that year, Portis ran for 192 yards and managed to finish the year with 1,262 yards.

Portis actually began this season positioned to possibly pass John Riggins as the franchise's all-time leading rusher, needing 1,370 yards over the course of 16 games.

Entering this weekend's Falcons' game, though, Portis would now need to average 98 yards in the final nine games to unseat Riggins by season's end.

Battling ankle injuries and a leg contusion in the early parts of this season, Portis has been a regular in the training room and has been unable to participate in some practices. He's still started every game, though he's lacked the explosiveness, struggles to turn the corner and has missed some holes.

Portis's best highlight-reel run this year came in Week 6 against Kansas City. Even as Portis took the handoff and rushed 78 yards downfield, he was run down by Chiefs' safety Mike Brown and failed to reach the end zone.

Without that run, Portis would be averaging just 58.9 yards per game and would be on pace for only 942 on the season. As it stands now, he's still on pace to rush for 1,120 yards, which would be lower than every season except his injury-shortened 2006 campaign, in which he played in only eight games.

While injuries have kept Portis out of practices, he says he feels fine heading into Atlanta.

"I'm just tired of going in the training room, man," he said. "Physically, the off week helped. I was joking with Santana [Moss] Monday about this being the first Monday that I can move around."

Portis has suffered behind the team's ever-changing offensive line, though Coach Jim Zorn couldn't say just how much his top running back has been impacted.

"I think we're trying to put our best group on the ball, we're trying to get some cohesiveness with those guys," Zorn said of the line. "As it relates to Clinton, he still has to have his vision down the field. Clinton's going to react to what he sees. I don't think he's going to react to a certain guy during the game."

Portis acknowledged that it's difficult to establish a week-to-week rhythm when the guys blocking for you have different numbers every Sunday.

"Every week, we've been shuffled. So how could you go out and execute?" Portis said. "You work on something one week that you made a mistake over here with, and then the next week it's something totally different."

"We struggling and you lose a Chris Cooley, you lose a Chris Samuels or Randy Thomas. All of a sudden Stephon [Heyer] is banged up, your line gets shuffled, you switch coordinators. It's like you're searching for the answer," Portis said. "And the weapons you have to answer it disappear. It's like every week you trying something new or you filling in for a new guy."

Despite the early struggles, Portis isn't calling out teammates, he isn't criticizing coaches or his linemen, and he says he's not giving up on the season. Portis hopes the Falcons game is the start of something. For the team, "the same way we got in this mess, we can get ourselves out."

And for Portis?

"What can you do? I got to go out and I got to continue to work," he said. "I got to continue to try and find a way to motivate the people around me. I can't give up."

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