By Rick Maese
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 25, 2010; 12:38 AM
Clinton Portis arrived in Washington as a confident 22-year-old at the top of his game, considered by most to be among the best running backs in the NFL.
"You can't have too much more heart than I can," he said shortly after arriving in town in 2004. "People's heart seems to wear out before anything else. You can have all the strength in the world, but if somebody keeps going at you, going at you, going at you, it's going to wear you down eventually."
Heart has never been the problem for Portis, now 29. Other body parts have been, though, and the Redskins were forced to place Portis, a franchise cornerstone for six-plus seasons, on injured reserve Wednesday, cutting short his ninth NFL season and casting doubt on his future in Washington.
Portis missed five games this season because of a groin injury before he returned to the starting lineup last Sunday at Tennessee. But he tore an abdominal muscle early in the game, an MRI exam revealed Tuesday, and Coach Mike Shanahan said Portis must undergo season-ending surgery.
It's the second straight year and the third time in his seven seasons with the Redskins that Portis will finish the season on injured reserve. He also managed four 1,000-yard seasons in that span, which illustrates the mixed feelings some fans might have about his tenure here. Portis helped the team to the playoffs twice and tallied 6,824 rushing yards as a member of the Redskins, second only to Hall of Famer John Riggins (7,472 yards) on the team's all-time list.
The Redskins will have to make a decision about Portis after the season. He'll pocket $7.7 million for this year - after playing in five games, with 227 rushing yards and two touchdowns - but this is the final guaranteed year of Portis's contract. If Shanahan brings him back, Portis would be 30 years old, having played in only 13 of the team's previous 32 games and due to earn $8.3 million in 2011 under his current contract terms.
Shanahan also was Portis's coach in Denver, where the young running back became just the third player in league history to rush for 1,500 yards in each of his first two seasons. The Redskins coach doesn't believe Portis is finished in football.
"I don't think there's any question about it," Shanahan said. "He's got such a strong will. It all depends on does he come back a hundred percent? Does he want to come back and play? He's got that inner drive that most people don't have. He wants to compete. But obviously, he's got to get well."
In the immediate future, Portis's absence means the Redskins will face some big questions in their backfield. At the start of the year, the spotlight shined brightly on Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, three running backs who had six Pro Bowls among them. None of the three is still on the active roster.
Instead, the Redskins will have to rely on the unheralded trio of Ryan Torain, Keiland Williams and James Davis, each of whom spent parts of this season on the practice squad. Williams is an undrafted rookie and Torain and Davis had only 24 combined carries entering this season.
The Redskins were also expected to sign a fourth running back Wednesday. Andre Brown, a fourth-round pick in the 2009 draft by the New York Giants, could be practicing with the team as early as Thursday morning.
Brown, who totaled more than 2,500 yards in 30 games for N.C. State, tore his Achilles' tendon in training camp last year and spent the season on the Giants' injured reserve list. He has spent parts of the 2010 season with Denver, Carolina and Indianapolis, but has appeared in just one game, notching two carries for minus-1 rushing yard for the Broncos in Week 5.
With a nagging hamstring injury, Torain is doubtful to play this Sunday against Minnesota, which means the Redskins will again rely heavily on Williams, who's been the team's featured back the past three games.
"Considering the last two weeks and the snaps I was able to get, I definitely feel I'm more in a comfort zone," Williams said after practice Wednesday.
Williams has 195 rushing yards on 49 carries this season and an additional 162 yards on 24 catches. Despite making only one NFL start, he has five total touchdowns, which leads all Redskins players.
"Other guys have got to step up," said guard Artis Hicks. "Keiland's been doing a great job, being a rookie coming in and have to learn what he's had to learn these few weeks and keeping things going, he's been doing a great job."
Colorful and outspoken, Portis has been among Washington's most popular athletes since the Redskins acquired him in a trade with Denver in March 2004. He never bit his tongue, drew national attention for wearing costumes in the locker room and wasn't afraid to call out teammates or coaches.
Portis certainly has been a controversial figure at times - he nearly came to blows with fullback Mike Sellers in the locker room last season - but his nine years of service earned him the respect of many peers in the locker room.
Last week's game against Tennessee marked Portis's return to the lineup after he suffered a third-degree groin tear in Week 4 against Philadelphia.
"It really is disappointing, because he worked so hard to get to where he was at," Shanahan said.
Portis is a shifty back who thrived in Shanahan's offense in Denver. He's also one of the league's best pass blockers in the backfield, which will be difficult to replace.
"It's a huge blow," said rookie left tackle Trent Williams. "He's one of the leaders on this offense and somebody who everybody looked up to because he's been getting it done for a [lot] of years. "
Staff writers Barry Svrluga and Jason Reid contributed to this report.