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Portis expects offseason work to pay off with big year

ASHBURN, Va. -- Clinton Portis is known for his fun-loving personality, not his love of workouts.

This season, the Washington Redskins' running back thinks first-year coach Jim Zorn's offensive system is going to give him more chances to have fun on the field. And he'll be ready to take advantage after spending the offseason working out in the Redskins' facilities.

Portis gained 1,262 yards last season and set the Redskins' top single-season rushing mark with 1,516 yards in 2005. However, under former coach Joe Gibbs, Portis was often called on to fight for yardage in a power-oriented game. Zorn is installing a more wide-open West Coast system, and the new coach thinks the passing threat will create open lanes for Portis.

"We're going to use him, and he knows it," Zorn said.

Portis' eyes light up when he thinks about Zorn's offense.

"I think over the past five years, playing tough-man football probably knocked six years off my career," Portis said. "But that was in the back end. I planned to play for 19 years, but now I'm down to 13, so I've got six left."


In the offseason, users voted on which costume Redskins RB Clinton Portis would wear at some point this season and the winner was Dr. Do Itch Big.

If that's true, he's certain to make the most of them.

In years past, Portis has addressed the media costumed as characters he created with gleefully ridiculous names like "Reverend Gonna Change," "Bro Sweets" and "Coach Janky Spanky."

In the opening days of this training camp, he said his role in the locker room is to keep things from getting too serious.

"He's a jokester," said fellow running back Ladell Betts.

Portis expects to have fun on the field as well this season. He acknowledged he missed some opportunities for big plays the past few seasons, but thinks he'll have far more chances to break out for long runs under Zorn.

"When you look across, you don't have to account for everybody," Portis said. "You know if you get through this hole, there's one person you've got to beat. You know I'm looking forward to that."

Portis may not have been looking forward to this offseason, which he largely spent working out at the Redskins' facilities in Virginia. In years past, Portis has headed home to South Florida for the offseason and has made no secret of his dislike for training camp practices and preseason games.

This year Portis focused on training, although it might not have been his first choice.

"I think he had a financial motivation to stay here in the offseason," Zorn said. "I think that worked into his contract."

The way Portis tells it, it was just easier to stay and work out than to justify leaving to Redskins management.

"They asked me to, and I was tired of fighting," Portis said. "Guys walked in and were shocked to see me here time after time, and I think we had fun with it."

For his coach, the fun comes in seeing how the workouts have translated to the field.

"It really not only worked well for him, it worked very well for us because we're going to benefit from all the things he did here in this weight room this offseason," Zorn said. "It was a forced issue for him, because I'm sure he'd have loved to have been in Miami, but he made some sacrifices. Partly it was extrinsic motivations he made sacrifices, but he did it."

Now that training camp has started, Portis appears to like the results of his stepped-up offseason. He looks at the well-respected, older players and sees players who dedicate themselves in workouts. He says he wants to be looked at as that type of player.

That's not to say he's going to stop being a jokester.

"He'll push the envelope and kind of say what guys are thinking but we won't say," Betts said. "But he means it all in good fun."

That sort of thing can rub coaches the wrong way. So far, Zorn seems to be taking Portis' personality in stride.

"He kids around a lot," Zorn said. "He tries to get a rise out of you, if you didn't notice that. But what happens is, when he gets on the field he's concentrating and he really understands the concepts that are out there."

Portis -- who describes Zorn as "a fun coach" -- is ready to get on the field and put Zorn's concepts into practice.

"It's hard to win if you're not having fun," Portis said. "Let's have fun and see where it takes us."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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