At the conclusion of the 2003 season, the Washington Redskins' Clinton Portis was king of the world. He sat atop the NFL running back throne, presiding over his accomplishments.
The second-year player was coming off back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons, a pro bowl appearance, the rookie of the year award from 2002, and a legitimate claim to being the best running back in the world.
During his two-year stint as a Denver Bronco, he averaged 5.5 yards-per-carry, a record for NFL running backs in their first two seasons. It looked as though Clinton Portis was destined to be one of the NFL greats.
And then he was traded to the Washington Redskins.
The very first time Clinton Portis touched the ball as a Redskin, he streaked down the field for a 64-yard touchdown. In less than 30 seconds, he managed to justify all that was given up to acquire him. Ironically, that first run would wind up being the highlight of his season—and his longest run over the next four seasons.
After that carry, Portis never found his rhythm in Coach Joe Gibbs' power running offense. The adjustment from the Broncos' outside style of cut back running to
Gibbs’ smash-mouth mentality where the ball carrier has to wait for his blockers proved difficult.
Yes, in his first year as a Skin, Portis did rush for a solid total of 1,315 yards. But he had a pedestrian 3.8 yards-per-carry (.2 under the league average) and was held to just five rushing touchdowns. Whether it was the Skins' offensive scheme, team personnel, or personal adjustment, Portis wasn't able to live up to his upper echelon status.
His next three seasons would be similar—good not great, solid not stellar. What his numbers didn't say was that the explosiveness and decisive running that enamored fans and discouraged defenses was missing.
It was replaced by a player who couldn’t quite grasp the offense, was impatient with his blockers, or was uncomfortable with his role.
Coming off a 2007 campaign where Portis once again averaged an ordinary
3.9-yards-per-carry, even his most ardent supporters could not claim that Clinton Portis was the best running back in football. Fan and team expectations of having a future hall-of-famer in the Skins' backfield were replaced with mere contentment with a quality player.
The allure and hype of his first two seasons had worn off. The guy had become just another good running back.
But just when dejected Redskins fans figured their team was headed for a period of transition under new coach Jim Zorn, a funny thing happened: the former king decided he wanted his crown back.
Through seven games, the Washington Redskins are second place in their division and appear poised to make a playoff run.
A reinvigorated Clinton Portis has literally put the offense on his shoulders and is carrying it effectively. He currently leads the league in rushing and has made a case for midseason MVP. The coaching change has seemingly revitalized Portis and his career.
Instead of fading down the stretch in games, Portis is gaining momentum. His relentless running is wearing teams down, and while they tire he is getting stronger. And the big plays are back.
Thus far this year Portis has had 14 carries for 10 yards or more, combining for 236 yards and a 16.9 yards-per-carry! Those are big-time numbers. And his clutch fourth quarter performances this season have literally sealed three of the Redskins' five victories to date.
So far, Portis is spearheading the Redskins' resurgence. His efficient running has helped dictate the pace of the game and control the tempo. More importantly, his contributions go beyond his rushing. He has evolved into one of the league's premiere pass blockers at his position.
Portis blows defenders up by delivering deceptively explosive hits. Furthermore, his quirky yet endearing personality has made him a team leader.
Right now, life is good for Clinton Portis. Thanks to his contributions, the Redskins are winning consistently. The team is positioning itself as a top contender and Portis looks to have found his stride once more.
Walking off the field after a 175-yard performance against the Cleveland Browns, Portis smiled knowingly, recognizing that the king had returned.