Clinton Portis and the Redskins' Running Attack: Feast or Famine?

Troy MarineCorrespondent IJanuary 9, 2009

Well, the Washington Redskins’ 2008 season was much like its last couple. There were some ups, and there were some downs, but in the end, it was pretty average.


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you say?  Yep, that pretty much summed up the Redskins’ rushing attack as well this year—great the first half of the season, terrible the second half. 


So, since we have seven months to think about what might have been and what might be, let’s take a look at the Redskins’ running game for next year and beyond.


Clinton Portis isn’t getting any younger.  He will turn 28 before the season starts, and we all know the story about running backs that are near, or over, the 30 mark—i.e. Shaun Alexander, former MVP three seasons ago, now third stringer. Their production seems to decline more than the economy in the last year. 


Although he had one of his best statistical seasons since coming to Washington (1,487 yards, nine TDs), I’m seeing more and more wear and tear physically than I have in years past, especially down the stretch of the season, where after the bye week he only averaged 70 ypg after averaging 110 ypg prior to that.


I know, he’s been injured pretty much every year he’s played here, and I must admit I’m impressed with the way he goes out there every game, and for the most part plays hard and performs better than most in those situations.


But this year, it was different.  Whether it was his knee, back, hip, neck, calf, or hand, it seemed like every part of his body was banged up.


Now most of that is just a long season of getting hit over and over again by 250 pound beasts. But after seven seasons of that, five with the Redskins, where he has averaged 298 carries a year—it would be higher than that if it weren't for his season ending after eight games in 2006—I’m not sure he’s got much left in the tank.


I also started to see a guy who was not only beat up physically, but mentally as well.  He seemed like he was disinterested at times, maybe losing that swagger and confidence he always had.  When they showed him on the sidelines during the Baltimore game, it almost looked like he had given up. 


That’s not the Portis I’m used to seeing and I have been watching since he played for the Miami Hurricanes.


It seems to me that his statement on the radio show, The Sports Reporters on ESPN 980, says it all.  Portis responded, after being asked if he would be happy if the running game in 2009 was like it was at the end of the 2008 season, “They don’t have to make me happy man, that’s not their job to make me happy.  I just need go out there and do my thing, come to work, be there nine to five, and go home.  That’s all I need to do.”


It sounds to me like he’s just going to be an average, everyday worker in DC—come to work, get his eight hours in, and then go home without anything extra, any overtime, or anymore interest in being the best running back in the league.


That spells 1,000 yard back to me, and possibly a “two-back” system, with Ladell Betts playing a more featured role.


Ladell is more than capable of handling that.  It was only three seasons ago that he came in for an injured Portis, and ran for 871 yards with four TDs (three rushing, one receiving) over the last eight games of the season.  That’s an average of 109 ypg.  Not bad for a back-up running back.


So, with Portis’ career possibly hitting its downward turn—I think he probably has two solid years left—should the Redskins try to trade him now, while his stock is as high as it’s probably going to get? 


I don’t think that will happen, considering he’s guaranteed $6.62 million in 2009, $4.4 million of his $7.69 million salary for the 2010 season, and a $9.3 million signing bonus.


Would it be wise to bring in a young, big name running back via free agency to start or split carries with Portis?  Why spend the money?  That’s money that could be spent on key positions that will need to be filled by next year. Linebacker and cornerback, for example.


As I stated above, Betts is more than capable of handling the load if Portis does go down to injury, or if they decide to go more toward a 50/50 split of the carries.  Besides, if you think Portis is unhappy now, you might as well put him on IR for the 2009 season if you bring another big time starting running back in here. 


Does it make sense to spend a high draft pick on an unproven running back out of college?  It might make sense to draft a running back in one of the later rounds for the future, but don’t spend one of your first three picks on one.  Use those for stud offensive and defensive linemen, which are sorely needed and are, in my mind, where football games are won.


These are only some of the questions concerning the running game that the Redskins face as they head into the offseason.


The good news is they have a top five running back returning and a solid back-up behind him.  So, I think that question is answered, for now.


The bad news is, there are so many other areas with question marks, there may not be enough answers to go around. It looks like it’s going to be a long offseason in Washington, again.