The way I see it, running back is the most replaceable position in the National Football League. It’s a cliché of the sport that running back is the only position on offense wherein a rookie can be expected to do well from jump, and this season has borne that out. Steve Slaton and Jonathan Stewart are just the most obvious examples this season; even Darren McFadden, who plenty of pundits claim lacks the lateral quickness to succeed at this level, has put up a game over 150 yards this season. The success of a running game just depends too much upon the quality of a teams’ offensive line, their offensive system, and their passing game. (See Holmes, Priest or Johnson, Larry.)
Running back is just like any other position, there are only a few special talents at the position in the league. As far as I’m concerned, they are (in no particular order):
But I’m a Redskins fan, and Portis is the only one playing for a (surprisingly?) winning team. You want to know how I know that Portis is special? Troy Aikman says so, and if you ever watch him (or Moose Johnson for that matter) announcing, it kills him to say anything good about the Redskins, and as well it should. But he loves Clinton Portis, you can tell. And rightly so, Portis does it all. He’s both an elusive and powerful runner, belying his size. He’s got excellent hands and knows where he’s supposed to be in the passing game. He’s an enthusiastic and, dare I say, vicious blocker…check out his de-cleating of Mathias Kiwanuka in Week One. Heck, he can even throw a touchdown. My favorite quality of his, however, is how he plays when things go wrong. It hasn’t happened this season (knock wood), but if the ball gets turned over, he’s always the first guy to react and pursue.
And of course, the Redskins just finished what I think was the toughest opening schedule in the NFL. The ‘Skins play in the consensus toughest division in football, and have already played all three of their road division games, not to mention the fact that they’ve played four of the top five offenses in the NFL (New York, Dallas, New Orleans, and Arizona). Now comes what some perceive as the cakewalk part of the schedule. The Redskins’ next three opponents are a combined 1-11 at the moment, with the 0-4 Rams up first…and this has all the makings of a dreaded “trap game.” The Rams are coming off of their bye week, and have just made a coaching switch to Jim Haslett from Scott Linehan, who had clearly lost the core of his locker room. But again, Clinton Portis is a complete player:
"Who better to upset right now than the Washington Redskins, who, all of a sudden, have everybody jumping on the bandwagon…Why not come in and upset us? So we've got to play with the mind-set that they're coming in for an upset. We've been the underdog for weeks, so hopefully in the locker room our mind-set is that we're still the underdogs." -- Clinton Portis (USA Today)
On the Dan Patrick Show this week, he said that the New York Giants were the team to beat in the division, and rated Jason Campbell as the fourth best QB in the NFC East. That tells me that Portis is among the guys in the locker room who isn’t buying into his own hype, and who is making sure that no one else is either. Portis, and hopefully the entire team, is taking the Rams seriously.
And really, they don’t need to. The St. Louis Rams are widely considered the very worst team in the NFL, despite the best efforts of the Detroit Lions. The Rams have the 31st ranked defense in the league, 28th against the run, and Portis put up over 100 against two top ten rush defenses in his last two games. Who on the Rams’ front seven is scaring anyone? Leonard Little, an aging pass rusher, or Chris Long…the rookie? Adam Carriker or Will Witherspoon? Some of these guys were, could be, and even are good NFL players, but the sum of their parts has not yet shown it this year. Did I mention that the Rams’ new head coach was their defensive coordinator just a few weeks ago? And if the fault lies in the coaching…will that malaise spread to the offense?
What it comes down to is this: The St. Louis Rams are terrible, and they’re coming into the Redskins’ house. The Redskins are probably one of the five best teams in football, and Clinton Portis is their best all around player. As long as they keep their minds right, they’re going to 5-1 on Monday…and probably 7-1 two weeks later. And Clinton Portis will be a big part of those victories.