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New York Times: Redskins Redesign Plays to Launch Portis

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Old 06-27-2005, 01:19 AM   #1
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New York Times: Redskins Redesign Plays to Launch Portis

The article required registration to read it, so I cut and posted it here. It's very similar to another article about Portis, but it's supposedly an original NYT piece and it mentions that Portis has put on some weight.

ASHBURN, Va. - As Clinton Portis left here in January after his first season in burgundy and gold, his Washington Redskins coaches hinted at tweaking the playbook for 2005.

In the weeks after he nodded, then shrugged off the whispers, the Redskins' staff overhauled the offense, every move with one goal in mind.

"They asked me what I felt about some things," Portis said during the team's June minicamp. "But when I got back, we had a changed offense."

The Redskins, their coaches pledge and their star tailback seems certain, will be different in 2005, and everyone involved points to Portis as the new offense's fulcrum. To highlight his speed and cutback skills, management signed smaller, faster wide receivers, and the coaching staff designed wider formations that should give Portis more room to run.

Almost anything would rank as progress over 2004, when Washington ranked 30th in yardage and 31st in points among the N.F.L.'s 32 offenses. Portis, acquired in the March 2004 trade that sent cornerback Champ Bailey to the Broncos, posted the poorest season of his three as a professional. He averaged 3.8 yards a carry, 1.7 fewer than the average for his first two seasons, and scored five rushing touchdown, compared to a total of 29 in his first two years.

Despite the ballyhooed trade engineered by Coach Joe Gibbs, Portis, who weighed about 200 pounds all season, looked out of place and misused in a Gibbs system designed for a bigger power runner.

"Sometimes you have to adjust," said Joe Bugel, the Redskins' assistant head coach for offense. "We're used to a 235-pound, 240-pound back. So we opened it up, tried to create running lanes for him. He's quick as a cat."

To help, Washington signed the free agents David Patten and Kevin Dyson, who have Super Bowl experience. On March 9, sandwiched between the two signings, the Redskins traded wide receiver Laveranues Coles to the Jets for Santana Moss, one of the N.F.L.'s fastest players, who also excels in the return game.

Even with the loss off Coles and the absence of receiver Rod Gardner, who has demanded a trade and has not participated in the off-season activities, Gibbs said the team had upgraded the position by adding speed. The Redskins will throw more, and earlier in the game, Bugel said, forcing defenses to pay more attention to receivers on the outside and open space for Portis. Portis could also help as a pass blocker, a role in which he thrived at the University of Miami.

"We're not a clustered offense anymore," Portis said of the changes. "Last year, the receivers, everybody was inside the numbers. This year, everybody is spread out. So it's different."

So is Portis, as Gibbs repeated throughout the full-squad minicamp last weekend. After avoiding Redskins Park for much of the 2004 off-season, Portis reported early in the spring and worked out on site. Mentored by the strength and conditioning coach John Dunn, whose nickname is Mother, Portis said he added 20 pounds of muscle in his chest and shoulders. Rosters released by the team indicated a 10-pound gain, placing him at 212 pounds this month.

Fellow Redskins said Portis's presence at voluntary spring sessions motivated them. An additional boost came during minicamp, when they said they realized he had not lost any of his quickness.

"With Clinton, he told Mother Dunn and the guys, 'Tell me what I need to do,' " Gibbs said. " 'I want to be part of this. I want to be a leader.' Any time that happens, it carries over to everybody else."

The leadership continued on the field, especially later in the spring, when Washington surprised the league by picking Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell with the 17th pick over all. Campbell, who led Auburn to an undefeated 2004 season and won his final 15 games at Auburn, grew up in Laurel, Miss., a town of 18,000 that Portis also called home until middle school.

"He's been the guy who's been helping me out," Campbell said of Portis. "We come from a similar background, so he's always talking to me, showing me things, making sure I get better."

Portis, too, needs to get better, at least statistically. After being named the N.F.L. offensive rookie of the year in 2002 and reaching the Pro Bowl in 2003, he eclipsed the 100-yard mark five times in his debut season with the Redskins. He went seven games, from Oct. 3 to Dec. 5, without a touchdown, and his 3.8 yards a carry for the season ranked last among the N.F.L.'s top 20 rushers.

Now Portis is set on improving on those numbers. The result, they all hope, will be playoff games in January.

"When Coach Gibbs came back, for a running back, he decided to pick me," he said. "We have a lot of talent around me, like last year. Now we're going to expose it."
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