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Portis the showman remains a team player

December 06, 2004

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) - From the first day of the first Washington Redskins minicamp in March, Clinton Portis was marching to a different beat.

While his teammates were practically swooning over their first practice under returning Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs, Portis was the one shaking his head over the short offseason.

"Being here a month before the draft, I think it came too quick," he said.

The Redskins already knew from Portis' Denver days that he was flamboyant, defiantly confident and very much an individual. Such players are fun to have on the team, but they can be dangerous wild cards in the locker room when things go sour.

Yet, when Portis saw his workload diminish during the recent three-game losing streak, he did something that didn't fit the profile at all: He remained a team player, not using even once the public forum to demand the ball or question the play-calling.

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"I'm a key in this offense," Portis said after Sunday's 31-7 victory over the New York Giants. "If I show frustration, that might can erupt. I know guys are looking at me. I know guys are going to follow me. So I can't blow my lid and lose the team. Therefore I stick with it. I'll get my opportunities, and I've just got to respond."

As Portis spoke those words, he was wearing cool-looking shades and a stylish black overcoat, having declined to face the cameras until he was dressed to a T. A few minutes earlier, he had walked off the field wearing a boxer's championship belt after a 31-carry, 148-yard performance that helped his team end the three-game skid. He played the game wearing red socks instead of the usual white because, in his words, "If you're not looking sweet, you really can't play too sweet."

So yes, Portis the individual lives on. But, in keeping with the remarkable player unity Gibbs has established through this difficult season, the running back with the $50 million contract hasn't been a team-wrecker.

"He has been so good that way," Gibbs said Monday. "I would have probably been upset if I was him. But hopefully guys understand on a team what we're doing and what we're up against. Clinton, since he's been here, he's been kind of all football. He loves playing the games. I don't think he'd vote for a lot of practices and stuff, but he loves playing the game."

And, for the record, Gibbs also didn't mind Portis' red socks, which will likely draw a fine from the league, or the championship belt Portis used to proclaim himself "the best back in the NFL."

"Contrary to popular belief, I like guys with a little humor and some personality," Gibbs said. "I'm supposed to be a milquetoast. That's supposed to be my reputation, but actually I like guys like that. I've coached quite a few, some real characters, and we got along real good. As long as they'll play on Sunday."

Portis' only whiff of controversy this season came after a loss to Cleveland in October, when he said he was told by some Browns players that the Redskins offense was predictable. Portis' comments appeared valid and were supported by other players, but the Redskins coaches made it clear they weren't happy with what Portis had said.

Mostly, however, it's been Gibbs who has been called to the carpet for not using Portis properly. Portis has been the team's strongest offensive weapon, but he had just 17, 17 and six carries in consecutive losses to Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The Redskins are 4-0 when Portis runs for 100 yards, 0-8 when he doesn't.

Gibbs fixed the errors of his ways against the Giants, running Portis on the first five plays of the game and seven times in the opening drive. The Giants, weakened along the defensive line by injuries, failed to put up much resistance, so it was a perfect day to get a fired-up running back in the flow. Portis' day put him at 1,093 yards, third in the NFC.

"When I handed the ball off to him first play," quarterback Patrick Ramsey said, "and he got seven yards or whatever, he came back to the huddle and basically said, 'I want the ball.'

"The next play I handed it to him, saw him get a first down and spin the ball, and I thought, 'It's over. He's inspired today.' I knew his attitude was a little bit different. He was ready to go."

Notes: DE Phillip Daniels, who dislocated a bone in his left wrist Sunday, will see a specialist Tuesday to determine whether he can play again this season. ... WR Laveranues Coles flew to Charlotte on Monday to see a specialist about his nagging toe injury. Coles was ordered to rest and won't practice until Friday. ... LB LaVar Arrington, who has missed 10 games with a knee injury, will try to practice on a limited basis Wednesday. ... DE Demetric Evans' status is uncertain due to a hairline leg fracture.

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