Washington Redskins' Clinton Portis stays out of spotlight in quest to be better teammate

Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 9, 2010; 10:37 PM

The spotlight has barely strayed. Headlines, national media attention, local barstool discussion - it's all been focused on Albert Haynesworth, Mike Shanahan and Donovan McNabb.

"I don't mind," said running back Clinton Portis, the Redskins' perennial lightning rod. "For me, it was all negative attention, everybody complaining about me not wanting to participate in the preseason. To have all the other stuff going on, it took the attention away from me, allowed me to come out and work and get myself right."

From the coaching staff to the locker room, the positive reviews for Portis in the weeks leading up to Sunday's season opener against the Dallas Cowboys have been unwavering. It's a far cry from last season, when many of Portis' s teammates treated him like an outcast. After all, Portis is a guy who got in a locker room altercation with Mike Sellers and even placed a call from the sideline to the coaches' box to have his fullback removed mid-game. If there's anyone who might harbor a grudge against Portis, it's Sellers.

"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 said. "And we have an understanding now. It's football. In order to play with each other, you've got to be able to let things go. I let it go and appreciate that he let it go."

"The Clinton from last year to the Clinton now," Sellers said, "a hundred times difference."

Since Mike Shanahan was hired as head coach in January, a lot has been made about the new attitude circulating around Redskins Park. But when it comes to individual players, perhaps no one has embraced and exemplified the change as much as Portis. He was a recurring problem for Coach Jim Zorn and his staff, opting not to fully participate in practices and voicing criticism of the offense and his blockers.

"It's hard to really play as a team when you really don't feel you're a team," said offensive tackle Stephon Heyer. "When you've got guys doing their own thing and not really putting in the work as they should, it's hard. When you're doing the work you should and you think another guy's not, it does have an effect. This year he's a lot different. He's definitely putting in the work and the time."

Throughout the offseason, training camp and preseason, Portis has been active in practice, engaged in meetings and optimistic about what the coming season holds - not just for him as a runner, but for the entire team.

"It's like a family," Portis said of this year's squad. "In previous years past, everybody went home. When people left from over here, they went home. It was like, 'I'll see you tomorrow at work.' Compared to now, you can catch numerous groups of guys - five or six guys - out together, having dinner, hanging around, shooting pool, bowling or doing something. I think it's just a team vibe all of a sudden."

Sitting out the final eight games of last season because of a concussion gave Portis a lot of time to reflect on his place in the Redskins organization.

"I think it gave me a chance to go out, take a look in the mirror and realize [what] things [were] my fault, some of the things I was doing wrong and the person I needed to be and what I needed to do to come back and be a part of the organization," he said.

"Honestly I didn't feel like I was doing nothing wrong but telling the truth. But at the same time, I got to the point of, I could've been a better teammate. I could hang around. What's the rush for me to get to work and get out of work? Do the things that everybody else do. Everybody else come out here and workout, they get it done. . . .Why can't I?"

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