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Stafford: Enigmatic Portis left mark with Redskins

Jeremy Stafford
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Jeremy Stafford

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By Jeremy Stafford - jstafford@nvdaily.com

Maybe a year ago I would have been somewhat shocked.

Maybe it's because this past NFL season was something of a letdown. Maybe it's because the Redskins organization, under the strict guidance of coach Mike Shanahan, over the last 12 months has been wrought with nauseating turmoil.

All I know is, when Washington on Monday released running back Clinton Portis, a nine-year veteran and seven-year Redskin, I was hardly taken aback.

Portis was an enigmatic player. He both captured the hearts of Redskins fans and proved a polarizing presence. His rookie season was arguably his best: As a Denver Bronco, he rushed for 1,508 yards and a career-high 15 touchdowns. In his sophomore season he rushed for a career-high 1,591 yards and 14 touchdowns. In both seasons, Portis ran at 5.5 yards a clip. He was then traded to the Redskins for cornerback Champ Bailey, and over the next seven years he only intermittently resembled that Bronco buster.

His best season as a Redskin came in 2005, when he rushed for 1,516 yards and 11 touchdowns. That was a promising season. Washington beat Dallas on Monday Night Football, finished the regular season 10-6, and earned a playoff win over Tampa Bay.

But in 2006 Portis and the Redskins faltered. Portis played in only eight games, and it seemed the Redskins did, too. Offensive coordinator Al Saunders' preference to toss the ball around the field clashed with coach Joe Gibbs' preference to run from the Power-I formation. With a 5-11 record, the Redskins finished last in the NFC East.

But who could forget 2007? The year free safety Sean Taylor was shot and killed. The year the Redskins fell to 5-6 and looked abysmal all over again. The year quarterback Jason Campbell's kneecap became dislocated and scurried up into his thigh. The year backup quarterback Todd Collins led the Redskins to wins over the Bears, Giants, Vikings and Cowboys to cap an unbelievable run to the playoffs.

The year Portis looked very nearly like the Portis of old, rushing for 1,262 yards and 11 touchdowns.

The 2008 season certainly proved Portis' last hoorah. Under first-year coach Jim Zorn, Portis sprinted for 1,487 yards, his best performance since 2005. Because of injury, he played in only eight games in 2009. Because of injury, he played in only five games in 2010.

Because of injury, he was deemed too expensive to keep in 2011.

Which begs the question: What, exactly, was Portis' legacy in Washington?

He's been described as the face of the Redskins franchise, which is fair, except that he played only four full seasons as a Redskin.

He was a great runner when he was healthy. But in the last few seasons he was rarely healthy. He's 77 yards away from 10,000 career rushing yards. The 6,824 yards he's accumulated in Washington is 684 yards shy of John Riggins' franchise record.
Riggins is good company to be associated with.

But off the field, Portis was largely a pain. Take his costumed characters, which he famously donned during press conferences years ago, for what you will. Was Prime Minister Yah Mon a distraction? Or was Dr. Do Itch Big merely a creative, if not artistic, means through which Portis could express his certainly unique personality?

Who knows. None of that was really too consequential.

More importantly, and more destructively, Portis often and openly blamed Washington's offensive line for his poor showings. He blamed disastrous losses on poor play-calling. He abhorred preseason camps. He refused, and still refuses, to play in a two-back system.

Portis is, or was, a great player. An entertaining player. But he wasn't always much of a team player.

His legacy will probably go through two periods: The years immediately following his departure, when Washington's soon-to-be tailbacks have us yearning for those years when one man could do it all; and the later years, when Washington finds its new franchise running back, when Riggins' franchise record falls behind one, then two, then three runners, when Clinton Portis is cast off as just another big-name acquisition who never quite got the Redskins over the hump.

1 Comment

Let's give Clinton a fair shake here. When Joe Gibbs was in Washington he gave Pop (Clinton) the ball on the regular. After the change in the Coaching Staff, with Jim Zorn at the helm the priority changed. In my oipinion Zorn was not a good fit for the Redskins nor was ha a proven Head Coach. It is very clear that he made bad decissions as a Head Coach, or he would still be there. Understanding that Pop (Clinton) has had several injuries over the past couple of years, but which dedicated hard running, blocking running back would not have a couple of injuries in this leauge? His release is all about the Salary Cap. Snyder would have had to pay him a $500,000.00 roster bonus, plus 8.2 Million Dollars for his participation in the regular season. Clearly he is a Salary Cap Casualty. I predict that if a team, such as the Texans, Cardinals, Coalts or the Saints would pick him up, that they would become instant contenders for the playoffs and potentially the Super Bowl, if there is no lockout in the NFL for the 2011 Season.

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