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Past means nothing to Redskins star running backs Clinton Portis, Willie Parker and Larry Johnson

The team practices at Redskins Park in Ashburn.

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 5, 2010; 12:17 AM

Clinton Portis doesn't look like an old man, and in virtually any other profession, he would be perceived to be on the rise rather than the decline. Corporate titans, master electricians, orchestra conductors - all would face questions about the promise of their futures, not the glory of their pasts.

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What Portis does every morning this time of year - banging into men who outweigh him by 100 pounds, then slipping loose and sprinting 25 more yards downfield - isn't for the aged.

"I know what I've done," Portis said one day last week, "and I know what I can do - still."

In Portis's new world, though, only half of that sentence matters: What can he still do? When he said it, he had just finished a conversation with Larry Johnson, their hands waving in the air, explaining which way each had cut on a certain play. The pair had just completed a morning workout in which they shared carries with Willie Parker. Each of those three backs has been to the Pro Bowl twice. Each has carried the ball more than 330 times in a season. And each is here, with the Washington Redskins, trying to win a job, trying to prove they know what they can do-- still.

"When you first hear it, you're like, 'Okay, Clinton is here'," said Terrell Davis, who won two Super Bowls with Denver, where he ran for new Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan, and is now a coaching intern here. "Larry Johnson comes in, Willie Parker, and the first thing you think is, 'Wow, how is that going to work? These guys are used to being the No. 1 running backs on their respective teams, so how's that going to work?'"

In the midst of the maelstrom surrounding defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth, that question is one the Redskins must answer: How is the running back situation going to work? A week into camp, it's too early to tell.

Since Shanahan traded him from the Broncos to the Redskins before the 2004 season, Portis has entered training camp in Ashburn as the unquestioned alpha back, whether he was coming off an injury or coming off the Pro Bowl. Now, Johnson, a former star in Kansas City and Parker, who was the same in Pittsburgh, are here. Both are pushing Portis in a way that other competitors come and gone -- Ladell Betts or T.J. Duckett or Rock Cartwright -- could not.

As Johnson said, "I don't know anybody, football or not football, [who wants] to come in and say, 'Hey, I just want to be third best.'"

So back to Davis's original question: How's that going to work?

"It's only one ball," Parker said. "So therefore, you know [there] probably can't be enough room for all of us. That's the game. That's the way it is. Therefore, you got to go out and compete. . . .There ain't even enough balls in practice."

Turner: the team's sage


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