Portis gets some MOJO!!
ASHBURN, Va. (AP) -- Clinton Portis is already the life of the party. Now he wants to lead it, as well.
``I have my swagger back,'' the Washington Redskins running back announced this week. ``I got me some mojo from over there in England. I went over there and kicked it with Austin Powers.''
There's no use trying to make sense of that. Portis didn't actually go to England, and the world is probably better off not knowing what he really did. After all, this is the player who said back in January that his offseason plans were ``to live like I ain't never lived before.''
Portis has also twice donned a world championship belt on the sideline after a big game to proclaim himself the top running back in the NFL. He dresses flamboyantly, speaks bluntly and isn't afraid to ruffle his coaches' feathers. It's never a dull moment when he is around.
``He is a wild card,'' running backs coach Ernie Byner said. ``But he's calculative. He knows some of the things that he's trying to accomplish when he does some of that. I think some of that is him naturally.''
So it came as somewhat of a surprise this season when Portis said he wanted to change his image within the team. He hardly fits the profile of a team leader, yet that is exactly what he has endeavored to become.
Coaches and teammates say Portis has taken on a greater presence in the meeting room and in the locker room. Portis has never cared much for practice, but he gave up valuable Florida beach time to become a regular at offseason workouts.
``He's always played like a leader out there on the field,'' left tackle Chris Samuels said. ``But he's more vocal before we go out there, right before the games. He speaks up and kind of fires guys up.''
Is it possible to imagine Portis as an eager classroom student? Well, that's the picture Byner paints in meetings.
``He answers a whole bunch of questions,'' Byner said. ``It seems like he's more up to speed about what we're doing. He's a sharp guy. A lot of that sometimes doesn't come across because you look at him as a flair-and-flash type of guy, but he's sharp and becoming more and more detail-orientated. ... I think maturation is what I've seen out of Clinton from last year to this year.''
Portis says he was motivated by his disappointing 2004 -- disappointing by his standards. Attempting to become the NFL first player to rush for 1,500 yards in each of his first three seasons, Portis' year ended at 1,315 with only five touchdowns and a career-low 3.8 average.
``I felt like last year, which I hope was my worst year ever at 1,300 yards, I needed to bulk up, I needed to learn more about this system,'' Portis said. ``And I needed to take a bigger leadership role. ... It's just maturity man. It comes with age.''
Having made his name as a slice-and-dice back for two years with Denver, Portis came to Washington in the Champ Bailey trade, signed an eight-year, $50.5 million contract and discovered he was expected to be more of a bruising back in coach Joe Gibbs' conservative offense.
His first carry went 64 yards for a touchdown, and it was more or less downhill from there. He added 18 pounds this offseason so he can take the punishment.
``You couldn't have told me after that first play that I wasn't going to have 2,000 yards,'' Portis said. ``If I don't become a home run hitter, I'm going to get the 5s and the 4s and let them pile up. Somehow, someway, we'll be a 1,500-yard rusher.''
Portis claimed the Redskins never again ran the play that went for the touchdown in last year's opener. In response, Gibbs said Portis ``forgot a few things'' and that the play was indeed used again.
Regardless, Portis has been the player who has spoken most candidly about the failures of the offense, and of the changes Gibbs has made to better suit not only Portis but the rest of the team.
``I think we are changing a lot of things up,'' Portis said. ``We are going to get this right.''
That means redesigning the plays and blocking schemes to give Portis more space to run. It also means throwing deep more often to new receivers Santana Moss and David Patten, which keeps defenses from crowding the line. It means doing anything to avoid a repeat of last year's 6-10 record, starting with Sunday's opener against Chicago.
``We've changed, not so much to his style, but to what we thought was more effective,'' Gibbs said. ``I don't think it's so much an adjustment to Clinton as this is the most productive way to do it.''
So what play would Portis like to call on Sunday?
``I think we're going to get out there and run four 'go' routes and just give me draws,'' Portis said. ``You can't cover everybody out there.''
Especially if he brings his mojo.
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