Joe Bugel, the Washington Redskins' assistant head coach-offense, said there are no hard feelings between him and Clinton Portis surrounding remarks the running back made after Sunday's loss to Cleveland, which marked the first public discord between a player and a member of Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs's staff.
Portis was held to just 58 yards in that game and asserted that the Browns consistently knew what plays the team was running. Bugel criticized Portis for making those statements during his weekly interview on Channel 4 and said yesterday that the men spoke this week and quickly put the incident behind them.
"We just hugged each other and shook hands," Bugel said yesterday. "He said, 'I love you, Buges.' 'I love you Clinton,' I said, 'Hey, let's go.' He said, 'I'll do anything for you.' I think he's a great-hearted young man, you know what I mean, and we don't generally make statements in the news to offend a player but, hey, it's over with. It's yesterday's news now and my feelings have never changed for that young man."
Portis generally addresses the media only after a game and on Thursdays, but he declined to speak yesterday. He blamed reporters for "making me look bad," adding, "I've got nothing to say." Portis spoke at length about the Browns' ability to thwart Washington's running game Sunday, however, relaying that opposing players were on to his club's tendencies and boasted about it to the running back after the game. "The defensive guy is out there calling out the play," Portis said after the 17-13 loss. "It's like you run into a brick wall."
Gibbs, whose team is 1-3 after three straight losses and faces Baltimore Sunday night, said players have made similar claims throughout his tenure in coaching. "I've heard that for 30-something years," said Gibbs. "That's [said] when you lose the ballgame." Still, he took the claim seriously and dissected tape of the game with his players and staff, concluding there may have been two times the Browns pointed to a spot when the Redskins were about to run, but noted the team gained yardage in both instances. Gibbs has defended the balance and versatility of his system this week -- pointing to using a no-huddle offense for the first time this season in Cleveland -- and said he spoke with Portis about his feelings concerning the running game.
"We talked about it some [Wednesday]," Gibbs said, "and what I always do with that. . . . What I want to do is find out if it's true or not. So what we did as an offense, we sat and went over everything and replayed everything afterward. In the heat of battle, lots of times you say a lot of things. I think what's more important to me is what we're doing, and making sure the players understand what we're doing."
Portis, ranked eighth in the NFL in rushing yards, has struggled to rediscover the Pro Bowl form he flashed in two seasons in Denver, breaking his first touch of the season for a 64-yard touchdown but failing to make those kinds of runs with the frequency he did in Denver. He has gone three weeks without a 100-yard rushing game for the first time in his career and took personal responsibility for the loss to the Giants in Week 2 -- when he gained only 69 yards and fumbled twice -- and the defeat to the Browns (his fumble on the opening play of the second half led to Cleveland's first touchdown).
Although coaches have said blame should be spread evenly among the staff and players, Bugel said he admired Portis for expressing that sentiment but wished he had stopped there in the aftermath of Sunday's loss. "Everybody was [frustrated]. Everybody was," Bugel said. "But like I say, bite your tongue; bite your tongue sometimes, you know what I mean?"
Bugel said it is not surprising that Portis has had to adjust to a new system and a new offensive line. Denver is known for having one of the most athletic lines in the NFL, constantly churning out 1,000-yard rushers, and Portis, a smaller back at 5 feet 11, 205 pounds, was accustomed to using his speed more to the outside with the Broncos. "We're a little more power inside" running team, Bugel said, and how much Portis improves gaining yards between the tackles bears watching as the Redskins try to reverse the course of their season.
Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis weighed in with his opinion of Portis after Baltimore's Monday night loss to Kansas City, during which Chiefs running back Priest Holmes gained 125 yards on the ground. "Portis isn't Priest," Lewis said. "Don't fool yourself now." During a week in which statements have been repeatedly in the news, Bugel hopes Portis, who ran 22 times for 86 yards against the Ravens last season, uses those words to his advantage.
"I think every player, if somebody said something about them and if they're a great player, they never forget," Bugel said. "They might forgive the guy, but they never forget. . . . So you'd better be careful what you say."