By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 27, 2010; 12:38 AM
ST. LOUIS - The Washington Redskins entered Sunday's game with a game plan that called for running back Clinton Portis to spend much of the second half on the sideline. As for their plan beyond Week 3, Portis admits, "I have no idea.
"If they call on me, they call on me," Portis said following Sunday's 30-16 loss to the St. Louis Rams. "If not, I got to cheer my teammates on, be the supporter that they need me to be."
A running game that has been searching for answers churned out more questions in Sunday's loss. From the backfield rotation to the on-field execution, it has been the least predictable part of the Redskins' offense through their first three games. The team's commitment to the ground game is unclear, and they'll enter next week's game at Philadelphia averaging a league-low 19 carries per game.
And if Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan knows how he'll use Portis from this point forward, he's not offering many hints.
"We'll talk about that next week. There's a lot of possibilities," Shanahan said. "You have to evaluate the film. Can't say right now. And I would never say right now."
Against the Rams, the rushing attack posted its best half of the season in the game's first 30 minutes, which was then followed by its worst. The team entered the game ranked last in the league with 107 net rushing yards through two games. Playing behind an offensive line that featured two new starters in Stephon Heyer and Kory Lichtensteiger, Washington ran for 115 rushing yards on 12 carries in the first half.
But in the second half, the ground game disappeared. The Redskins had only one yard on five carries in the final two quarters against a Rams blitz that seemed to plug every hole.
"I think everyone was bad in the second half," tight end Chris Cooley said.
Further confusing matters, Portis took a backseat to Ryan Torain, who was activated from the practice squad Friday and hadn't appeared in a game since 2008. Portis was relegated mostly to third-down situations. Torain started drives and had three second-half carries; Portis had only one.
"That was our plan," Shanahan said. "I thought both of them did an excellent job running the first half. I'm not sure what their yardage was. But both of them had a lot of yards. We're going to keep Clinton in there on passing situations on third down and Ryan on first- and second-down situations. They both got some carries. I thought they both did a good job."
Torain led the team with 46 yards on seven carries. Portis had 44 yards on seven carries. The game marked only the third time in his career he had fewer than 10 carries in game in which he was healthy. It was the fewest touches a healthy Portis has had since October 2005.
Talking to reporters following the loss, Portis did not express any frustration with the team's second-half rotation, even offering up praise for Torain.
"I'm not really surprised by much," Portis said. "I think Ryan went out and had some big runs. He went and provided the big-play ability that they was looking for. I guess he was hot."
Though he was listed as questionable on the injury report, Portis said he's healthy.
"I'm fine. I feel like when they call my name, I go," he said. "I think this is a team that is jelling, playing team ball and we got a lot of playmakers. So if they call somebody else's number . . ."
Torain entered the game with just 69 career yards on 15 carries. He had appeared in just two previous games, both in November 2008. On his first play from scrimmage Sunday, Torain took a handoff in the second quarter and charged around the left end for a 36-yard gain.
"I was just waiting for coaches to call my number," he said. "When they called, I was ready."
The past week saw plenty of backfield shuffling. The team released running back Larry Johnson on Tuesday and added Chad Simpson. Keiland Williams, an undrafted rookie, moved up to No. 2 on the depth chart. Then on Friday, Torain was told he would be activated for the game. Simpson made the trip to St. Louis but was on the inactive list.
Portis appeared to be the only running back whose role was unchanged - until the second half. Now even he doesn't know what the future holds.