Zac Boyer will be entering his third season covering the Washington Redskins for The Free Lance-Star this fall. Make sure to follow Zac on Twitter (@ZacBoyer) for the latest updates or e-mail him with any questions at email@example.com.
Redskins notes, quotes and observations (Thu, 9/30)
RB Clinton Portis will start on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Mike Shanahan said today. I’m not sure that was ever truly in doubt, but it’s worth noting after reserve RB Ryan Torain cut into Portis’ carries last Sunday against St. Louis.
The bigger question centers on the division of playing time between the two backs. Shanahan said after Sunday’s loss to St. Louis that he decided to get Torain more carries on first and second down in the second half and use Portis on third downs.
“I consider myself the feature back, one of the best backs, and I’m gonna always feel that way,” Portis said. “For myself, I don’t think anything has changed. Sunday just didn’t work.”
Portis compared last Sunday’s development to past instances when his playing time was reduced. He mentioned the Baltimore Ravens game in 2008, and a reporter reminded Portis that he publicly complained on the radio after that game (you’ll recall he referred to coach Jim Zorn on as a “so-called genius.”)
“After those games, nothing changed,” he said. “I’m sure nothing is going to change after this game. There’s no need.”
Portis is taking a passive approach to this. When asked why he didn’t play as much in the second half Sunday, he said: “For these hot topics that you’re bringing up, Coach Shanahan is right upstairs. You wanna walk up there with him, you can interview him after this and ask him all those questions.”
The problem with that, though, is that Shanahan won’t answer questions that have to do with strategy or, uh, football in general.
We gave it a shot, though, and asked Shanahan this afternoon why Portis did not carry the ball in the second half against the Rams. I’m sorry to say that the best answer of his I can give you is: “Sometimes you make some decisions.”
Shanahan went on to discuss how the specific game situations dictated pass instead of run. However, the Redskins passed three times on a three-and-out in the second half while down five points. They also passed on first down on their next series trailing by eight points. They incurred a 10-yard holding penalty on the play, which limited the effectiveness of a run for the rest of that ill-fated series.
To me, using Torain on first and second downs and Portis on third makes sense. Neither running back sets himself apart in terms of running the ball. (They averaged 6.6 and 6.3 yards per carry, respectively, on Sunday). Neither has breakaway speed, and both can execute the outside zone scheme. The big difference, though, is Portis’ superior pass blocking.
The success of the Redskins’ running game through three games has been determined only by the quality of the blocking up front. When the holes have been there (rarely), both backs have done well. When running lanes have been scarce, neither back is making something out of nothing. And because neither Portis nor Torain is clearly better than the other as a runner at this point, why not keep Portis fresh by using him on third downs when his blocking his a critical asset?
Of course, the Redskins have to mix that up some because Torain is such a liability as a pass blocker that they’ll be susceptible to the pass rush if they want to throw on first and second down (And Washington has passed on 61 percent of first-and-10 plays this season).
As for play selection, Portis did not publicize any displeasure about that, either. The Redskins ran 12 times for 115 yards in the first half against St. Louis but amassed only one rushing yard on five second-half carries.
“We’ve got an offensive coordinator who brought a lot of excitement around here,” Portis said. “I think a lot of people was eager to see us get a passing game. As you seen, we’ve got a passing game. It’s just a matter of time before we get going. The run game, passing game just complement each other. Right now it’s just working out the kinks of the offense, and once we get going get our running game established and also have a passing game, I think it’s going to be hard to stop us. Right now it’s just growing pains.”
That sentiment is shared by other players I’ve talked to this week. Players have expressed faith in coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s run/pass balance. Shanahan has the benefit of the doubt with them for two reasons: 1. He arrived with a glowing reputation, and 2. Players are glad he’s calling plays instead of Jim Zorn/Sherm Lewis/anyone from last year.
LT Trent Williams (knee/toe) believes he can play on Sunday. Most players say that, though, and he admits: “I expected to play last week, also.”
Williams’ toe is giving him the most problems at this point. “I can play through a knee, but the toe is really my foundation. It makes it a little bit hard sometimes.”
Needless to say, the Redskins need him.
The Redskins moved today’s practice indoors to a hangar at Dulles Airport because of the heavy rain soaking the area. Shanahan put a positive spin on it.
“I think sometimes coaches overwork players,” he said. “I think sometimes you’re forced to give them a rest. This is a situation, I think, today, we’ve been working pretty hard last week. We had three days in the mid-90s when we practiced and our team was little bit tired. I thought not practicing today full-speed will probably help us rather than hinder us.”
Regardless of whether that turns out to be the case, an NFL team practicing in an airport hangar in 2010 is a unique (laughable?) situation. More than half of NFL teams have indoor facilities.
Owner Daniel Snyder told the team’s website earlier this year that the team is looking into constructing one. However, there are hurdles that include the proximity of team headquarters to swampy land.
The short list of candidates on the Redskins defense to spy Eagles QB Michael Vick on Sunday includes SS LaRon Landry. He’s got the speed and power to do it, and coverage isn’t his strongest suit, anyway.
“It’s gonna be fun,” Landry said, “but just think about every time he breaks, it’s an opportunity for this guy to score and affect the defense. You’ve got to have great leverage and be able to run and not get tagged.”
Josh Bidwell punted on the artificial turf here today, and his ailing hip did not affect him enough to prompt Mike Shanahan to make a move. It appears Bidwell will continue as the Redskins’ punter.
In other injury news, NT Anthony Bryant (concussion) still has not been cleared to practice. He won’t play against Philadelphia “unless he made a drastic change,” Shanahan said. That means we should expect to see Albert Haynesworth on Sunday.
CB DeAngelo Hall (back) returned to practice.