One game into the Washington Redskins' season, and Clinton Portis is a new man

By Tracee Hamilton
Tuesday, September 14, 2010; 12:01 AM

There is a right way and a wrong way to approach many things in life. One example: When a new boss arrives, you can refuse to come to work for six months or so, then show up but gripe about everything you're asked to do. Or you can put your nose down, do your job and hope someone is watching. In other words, you can be Albert Haynesworth, or you can be Clinton Portis.

Haynesworth's behavior since Mike Shanahan took over as coach of the Redskins has been well-documented. Even the stalemate has grown stale. Godspeed, gentlemen, but wake us when it's over.

Portis, a year ago, slid through training camp with what looked like a minimal effort. He played the first half of the season but his legs seemed tired, and so at times did his shtick. He had a heated exchange with fullback Mike Sellers in the locker room. Then he suffered a season-ending concussion. After Shanahan was hired, Portis publicly questioned quarterback Jason Campbell's leadership.

Many wondered how Shanahan, a noted disciplinarian, would react to Portis, and Portis to Shanahan. They had worked together in Denver, so both knew what to expect. So would Portis buy into the program, or would he continue to complain about his teammates? Would Southeast Jerome rise up and make his presence known?

To say Portis took the opposite approach from Haynesworth is understating the case. He embraced offseason workouts; he enthusiastically participated in minicamps; he worked hard in training camp. How different is Portis this season? Let Sellers tell you.

"The effort that he's put in this offseason, the stuff that's he's done, the teammate that he's become - definitely, he has my respect," Sellers told The Post's Jason Reid last week. "The Clinton from last year to the Clinton now - a hundred times difference."

If Frank Capra were directing, the Redskins' victory Sunday night over Dallas would have ended with a fourth-quarter touchdown run by Portis to seal the win. He and Shanahan would have hugged - well, Shanahan would have tapped him once on the helmet - as one tear crawled down Portis's cheek. Cut to Shanahan, almost but not quite smiling. Roll credits.

Instead, what we saw was a running game that struggled to find its footing but a running back who hurled himself at blitzing defenders like tweens throw themselves at Justin Bieber. He finally found some running room in the fourth quarter - not coincidentally when DeMarcus Ware was watching the weird fog roll in from the Cowboys' sideline - and picked up 26 yards in the Redskins' final series, plus a 10-yarder that was called back on a penalty.

But it was the sight of Portis throwing himself at defenders with verve that was most remarkable on a night the offense didn't have many remarkable moments. Portis has always been a back who would block, but in the new offense that role seems to have intensified - or Portis has. The entire offense, from line to receivers, has talked about the blocking schemes in Kyle Shanahan's system. The offense is definitely still a work in progress, but everyone seems to be buying in, including Portis.

"I thought Clinton did a heck of a job," Shanahan said Monday. "I thought we got stronger as the game went on. . . . I thought Clinton did a tremendous job blocking when we did throw the football. He was instrumental in some of the blitz pickups and keeping them from sacking the quarterback."

Somewhere on Shanahan's staff, someone is charting blocking statistics for the running backs, but those are not numbers readily available in the usual NFL box score. Those are not numbers that lead to contract extensions and big checks. Blocking also can get a running back hurt, especially one who suffered a severe concussion a year ago and had to be cleared to compete in offseason workouts.

But it's got to be done, as the offensive line finds its legs, as Donovan McNabb learns a new playbook, as the team's inexperienced wide receivers struggle to get open. It's a difficult, thankless job, especially when it's your turn to run and the holes aren't there for you. Portis finished Sunday's game with 18 carries for 63 yards. It's those invisible numbers that made his performance notable.

Portis admitted a surprising desire this past week: He'd like to be a team captain. McNabb and London Fletcher are captains for the entire season, hardly surprising selections. After the bye week, the Redskins will choose an additional offensive and defensive captain to serve with McNabb and Fletcher for the final eight games. Ponder it: Coach Janky Spanky as team captain. Sheriff Gonna Getcha as team captain.

"Everybody in that locker room wants to be captain," Portis said last week. "We got great captains though. If you look at Donovan and Fletch, they're proven leaders. When you got guys like that, who are going to be standup guys, you always want to be in that elite company."

Not only is Portis on board the Shanahan Train, he's already bucking for a promotion.

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