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Dick Vermeil predicts Larry Johnson will push Clinton Portis 'right out of a job'

Despite being two years younger than Johnson, Clinton Portis has 755 more carries and is coming off of a season-ending concussion.
Despite being two years younger than Johnson, Clinton Portis has 755 more carries and is coming off of a season-ending concussion. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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Another strike against Johnson would seem to be his age, but Edwards and Vermeil are quick to point out that Johnson's legs don't have the mileage on them that you typically find with a veteran running back.

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Though he's two years older than Portis, Johnson has 755 fewer carries. While the two might begin training camp sharing the workload, Vermeil expects Johnson to open eyes at practice. He says Johnson helped push Priest Holmes, the Chiefs' incumbent running back in Kansas City seven years ago, and Vermeil says he'll push Portis now -- until he surpasses him.

"I've never seen a kid compete so hard to prove that he's as good as the starter," he said. "And if that starter isn't the Priest Holmes-type who will match the effort every single day, Larry Johnson will take his job. I don't know that much about Clinton Portis, but I know what Larry was like. He ran mean. In practices, he ran like he just plain didn't like his teammates."

There will also be questions about how exactly Johnson will fit into Coach Mike Shanahan's new offense. Hampered by injuries and an inconsistent offense, the Redskins fielded the league's fifth-worst running attack last season. With Shanahan's history of relying on strong backs and stronger blockers, many think the ground game will be one of the first things the new coaching staff looks to change.

But when he was coaching in Denver, Shanahan's zone blocking scheme favored cut runners who could move laterally and then shoot through a hole. In Kansas City, Johnson was considered a downhill runner whose strength was powering his way between the tackles. Edwards called Johnson a "pure insider runner," and said Johnson suffered when teams stacked the box against him.

But Vermeil sees more versatility. He said Johnson became a downhill runner because that's what the Kansas City offense called for. When Johnson was drafted, Holmes ran the show in Kansas City and when Johnson took over in the backfield, he was plugged into an offense that was still built around Holmes.

"The truth is, he can run anything you give him to run," Vermeil said. "When he first came to us, he wasn't sure what type of runner he was. But within our running game, once he got going, he could really run anything."

The real question, the coaches say, could be about Johnson's motivation and his level of commitment. Johnson has already earned the bulk of the money that he'll make in his career. Though the Washington contract is modest and incentive-laden, Edwards thinks Johnson has joined the Redskins for another reason altogether.

"This is his last shot, and I think he has to know that," Edwards said. "This is different for him than the past several years. He's not the guy and that might be good for him. Now he has to go compete again to be successful. When he's the guy, he kept getting in his own way. He wasn't always doing the right things."


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