By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 3, 2010; D01
MIAMI BEACH, FLA. -- Clinton Portis walked through the makeshift ESPN studio, set up specially for Super Bowl week, wearing shorts, a green hooded shirt and his latest fashion accessory: a pair of dark-rimmed pair eyeglasses. It's a subtle reminder that Portis is still recovering from a concussion he suffered three months ago.
Doctors prescribed the corrective lenses to help Portis with vision problems that have bothered him since he received the season-ending hit on Nov. 8, but Portis said on Tuesday that he expects to be healthy enough to compete in 2010. Furthermore, after repeated warnings that his future with the organization could be up in the air, Portis said he's spoken with Coach Mike Shanahan and expects to be a part of the Redskins' backfield.
"My offseason's been longer than anyone ¿ [being placed on the injured-reserve list] and missing the last eight games of the season. For me, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to get back and work with Coach Shanahan again," Portis said in an interview after his TV appearance. "Everybody else is like, 'Oh, you get a new coach and stumble out the blocks while you get used to the new system.' But for me, it's like all of a sudden seeing how much you miss something. I think having a great coach like Coach [Joe] Gibbs, he installed all kinds of discipline and manhood in people, and he got the most out of them. But I think you talk about a genius in scheme, Coach Shanahan is one of the best you can find. I'm looking forward to it because I know the capabilities we have."
Portis said he's also had discussions with Bobby Turner, the Redskins' running backs coach who was Portis's position coach in Denver during his first seasons in the league. Portis said that although he met with specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center following the season, he has at least one more visit before he can be medically cleared to play again.
After suffering through a disappointing season ¿ Portis's eighth in the league ¿ the running back made the short trip from his Miami home to the ESPN studio Tuesday to make certain NFL fans knew he planned to return from his injury. Under Shanahan's offense, he thinks he can replicate the impressive numbers he posted when he first entered the league.
While he was complimentary of former coach Jim Zorn and former running backs coach Stump Mitchell, Portis said he was frustrated at times with how he was used in Zorn's system. He thinks Shanahan's blocking schemes and an offense that relies more on play-action will open up more opportunities for him.
"The past few years, I banged my head into the wall," he said. "I think now, all you can think of is daylight."
The 2009 season was filled with more drama than any in Portis's career. He entered training camp amid speculation that he and Coach Jim Zorn had an irreparably fractured relationship. He got into a locker room argument with fullback Mike Sellers, was slowed by ankle spurs, missed practice time and struggled to pile up yards.
"I remember going to our coaching staff, saying, 'I don't want to run sideways.' It wasn't working for us," Portis said. "We'd come out in the game and our first six runs are sideways. So you get aggravated, you get mad. You go back and forth with one of the coaches on the sidelines. Then all of a sudden, the second I'm out of the game, Ladell [Betts] goes in and he runs downhill. It's like, I asked to run downhill, but we wouldn't do it."
After suffering the concussion Nov. 8, Portis said he felt he had to make his presence scarce around Redskins Park. He says he didn't always feel welcome and some in the organization were using him as a fall-guy for a season gone terribly awry.
"I was never worried about myself not being with the team [in 2010]. It was more dealing with all the BS," Portis said. "There was so much BS going on that all of a sudden people would speak up after the season. They could've addressed it during the season if it was an issue. I think the approach of Coach Shanahan, he's a no-BS guy."
"With Coach Shanahan, if you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, you don't have to worry about BS. I think in the past couple of years, you never knew. You didn't know who was for you or who was against you. You hear, 'We going in the right direction, we're doing this and that.' But then everything going on at Redskins Park was leaked out. If we're really going in the right direction, why's that happen?"
"I was taking the heat for everything that was going on. And I wasn't even around. I stopped coming around for that reason. It's like, if I was coming and stood at practice, the young players ask me questions, and it was, 'Get away from him; you're not paying attention.' It was like I was a distraction. So then I don't go around so no one could point the finger, and then it was like, 'Well, he don't come around the team.' Well, which one is it?"
After the season, a handful of Portis's teammates said the team gave preferential treatment to some players, comments Portis believed were directed at him. Then, in a postseason radio interview, Portis questioned the leadership skills of Jason Campbell, a brief flare-up that Portis says he and Campbell have resolved.
With a new coach and the fourth overall pick in the NFL draft, the Redskins could opt to overhaul their backfield. But with pressing needs on the offensive line and the potential to hand-pick a new quarterback, Portis's spot is likely safe. Plus, he's due a base salary of about $7.2 million in 2010, $6.4 million of which is guaranteed. A year after posting a season-low 494 yards in only eight games, Portis will be 29 by Week 1. He's ready to forget the past few years, move past the old, frustrating offense and return healthy and hungry.
While he'll begin his full offseason program in March, he says he's working every day to recover from the concussion. He has vision problems, delayed reactions and blurriness and has been working with a specialist in Washington, who gave him a computer program that helps exercise his eyes.
"I kind of waited a couple weeks before I got started with the computer program, thinking, 'How the hell is this going to help me?' " he said. "Once I got started, it was like, an addiction. 'Great, I feel my eyes working right.' "
Portis says he'll visit the Pittsburgh medical staff once more and expects to be cleared then. When he puts on a helmet again, He doesn't think he'll need the corrective eyeglasses.
"I kind of like the look on them, though. I might just take the lenses out," he said. "They kind of make me look grown."