Thrash paves way for Portis' TD run

With a lot of help from his teammates, RB Clinton Portis made a big splash in his Redskins debut.

Originally Published: September 12, 2004
By Len Pasquarelli | ESPN.com

LANDOVER, Md. -- Criticized in the past for his extravagant and occasionally ill-advised spending sprees, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder had to be beaming on Sunday afternoon about the big offseason investment in his team's running game.

Clinton Portis
Portis
Of course, we're referring to the $50.5 million contract that Snyder awarded Clinton Portis after acquiring the third-year tailback from the Denver Broncos in a blockbuster trade, right? Uh, no, not really.

The far more cost-effective investment, at least based on Sunday afternoon's season-opening victory, was the pittance spent on wide receiver James Thrash, reacquired by the Redskins in a deal all but obfuscated by another offseason in which Snyder was once again active in refurbishing his roster.

OK, so maybe we're stretching it a bit, we concede, with this Thrash thing. But it was the hard-working Thrash, typically unnoticed, who helped Portis stretch an off-tackle play on his debut regular-season carry in a Redskins uniform, into a 64-yard touchdown run. It was the brand of effort play that has marked Thrash's eight-season league tenure, but also the kind of effort Redskins fans can come to expect from every blocker, yeah, even the wide receivers, in the revamped Washington running game.

"When you get a back like (Portis)," allowed Thrash, "you want to do whatever you can do find him some room. And that's true, no matter what position you play, OK?"

It was certainly the case on the Redskins' third play of their first offensive series here on Sunday, a first-and-15 play from the Washington 36-yard line, following a delay of game penalty. The 'Skins aligned in a "cluster" formation, with three wide receivers bunched to the right, and Thrash in the middle of the trio.

After the handoff, Portis took a jab-step to the left, then cut back sharply to the right and through a huge hole, precipitated in part by Tampa Bay tackle Anthony McFarland being blocked deep to the inside. But as Portis roared through the large tunnel and up the right seam, he got two blocks from wide receivers, including one on which Thrash knocked Bucs nickel cornerback Mario Edwards out of the lane.

Given such a monstrous opening, Portis went untouched for the touchdown, with about as auspicious a debut as he could possibly have imagined. The Redskins were on their way to the 500th regular-season win in franchise history, exactly one-fourth of them authored by coach Joe Gibbs, and Portis was en route to a 19th career outing of 100 yards or more.

The former University of Miami star, who cost the Redskins cornerback Champ Bailey and a second-round draft choice to lure away from the Broncos, where he had rushed for 1,500-plus yards in each of his two seasons, finished with 148 yards on 29 carries. After being knocked back on its collective heels by the 64-yard score, the Tampa Bay defense pretty much corralled Portis, limiting him to an average of 3.0 yards thereafter.

But the Redskins made it clear that, even when Portis isn't ripping off long gains, he is going to be the centerpiece of an offense that doesn't throw the ball very effectively. And Portis, as well, made it clear that he expects to be a workhorse.

"If they want to keep giving it to me, that's fine, because defenses are going to wear out the deeper we get into games," said Portis. "Twenty or 30 (carries), that sounds good to me, you know what I mean? I'm up for it."

There have been suggestions that Portis isn't quite the optimum back for a Gibbs design, which has relied in the past on power-type runners. But Gibbs acknowledged following his first win in 11 years that Portis lobbies hard on the sidelines for the ball, and that he has no qualms in acceding to the tailback's desire for more "touches."

"I think he is a tough guy," Gibbs said. "One of the best things about Clinton really is his enthusiasm on the sidelines. He is bright-eyed, jumping in your face and saying, 'Run this (play)!' So I say, 'OK, we're going to run it.' And we did."

When you get a back like (Portis), you want to do whatever you can do find him some room.
Redskins WR James Thrash

It appeared that Gibbs went to the signature "counter trey" running play that marked his first tenure with the Redskins fairly sparingly on Sunday, depending more on running right at the quicker Tampa Bay defense. For the most part, an offensive line playing without right tackle Jon Jansen, lost for the season to an Achilles injury, was proficient enough. Left tackle Chris Samuels, ravaged in the past by Simeon Rice, held the Bucs star right end to three tackles and no sacks.

There were times when the Bucs penetrated and, on a fumble that resulted in the lone Tampa Bay touchdown, backup center Cory Raymer stepped on the foot of quarterback Mark Brunell. It was, noted right guard Randy Thomas, "an OK" performance. And that is about the same assessment that could be made of Portis' debut in burgundy and gold.

Outside of the early touchdown run, he had just one other carry for more than nine yards, a 16-yard rush over right tackle in the fourth quarter on which he broke two tackles and helped the Redskins bleed the clock. Twenty of his 29 carries netted three yards or less and 10 were for one yard or less.

But the 64-yarder more than overshadowed what followed it. And it served as impetus for all the players on the Washington roster to understand that, if you give a little bit extra for Portis, he is going to produce more than a little extra for a fairly rudimentary offense.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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