Arts & Entertainment

Picking Splinters: Portis Rant Should Warn Zorn

Maybe I spent too many years of my life in Washington, but when the Redskins exploded to their 6-2 start something told me that there was trouble yet ahead.

Maybe it was because only one of their wins was by more than eight points. Maybe it was because they lost to the Rams. Maybe I was hanging out with Cubs fans too much and I knew that all recent Redskins seasons seem to end in despair and windy rants on local radio station Sportstalk 980.

This season appears to be no different, only instead of angry fans flooding the phonelines, it’s angry running backs.

Tuesday, Redskins RB Clinton Portis ranted about his lack of playing time during the Redskins’ 24-10 loss to Baltimore last weekend during his weekly appearance on 980. He complained about the fact he only carried the ball 11 times, then didn’t play at all after the first series of the second half.

“Either you feel like you need to sever ties with me – split ties with me – but don’t sit here and throw me out like I don’t pay attention, like I don’t know what’s going on, like I’m making mistakes, like I’m the problem,” Portis, the NFL’s third-leading rusher, said in the interview. “It is what it is, bro.”

Portis clearly thinks that it’s all or nothing, that it’s either play me or let me go. These are the sort of situations that are caused by new head coaches not knowing how to handle star talent and star talent not knowing how to hand life out of the game’s spotlight. This is a communication problem and problems like that get solved over coffee during the practice week. Unfortunately, this situation developed a bigger problem in the interview.

When asked whether or not other teams had started to figure out the Redskins’ offense, a likely possibility since Washington has topped 10 points once in its last five games, Portis responded, “We got a genius for a head coach, I don’t know, so I’m sure he’s on top of things,” Portis said. “He’s got everything figured out. All I can do is when he calls the plays is to try and execute to the best of my ability.”

The sarcasm is so thick you could spread it with a knife. Actually, you could probably use the one that Portis just lodged in Zorn’s back. That is, if you could pull the coach out from that bus that Portis also just threw him under.

Unlike the griping about playing time, these comments are troublesome. Portis is a team leader, with the Skins’ other players looking up to him. You lose your team leaders, you lose the team. You lose the team, you lose your job. And that is a big problem.

But the roots of this problem aren’t in the locker room, they’re on the field. The Redskins offense has redefined the term “futile” recently. And that futility, like this present problem, spread because of a deteriorating offensive line.

Three weeks ago I wrote a note in my mailbag column that the offensive line looked about as solid as a wet Kleenex. It hasn’t improved. The Ravens, like the Giants before them, were able to hurry and harry Redskins QB Jason Campbell. By getting pressure on the QB, the Skins suffer immensely. In order to protect Campbell, Washington must cut down on the deep routes on which WR Santana Moss thrives. They must hold TE Chris Cooley on the line to help block, taking yet another offensive weapon off the table. And finally, running backs, like Portis, have to stay in to chip block and pick up blitzing linebackers and defensive backs, taking play-action passes off the table.

Portis staying behind the line to protect Campbell is what triggered this recent mess. Zorn removed Portis because he felt the running back wasn’t releasing into the open after picking up the blitz. Portis disagreed.

“Jason on his [butt] all game long, you try to stay in and help, then it’s ‘Aw, you should have gone out.’ … If he’s over there and can’t breathe and unconscious where he done got the wind knocked out of him from being sacked, then it’s ‘Aw you got to help out, you’ve got to chip,'” Portis said. “So I don’t think they know what they want me to do.”

Head coaches have the right to bench players, stars or otherwise. However, they also have the onus of conveying why the move helps the team. Zorn needs to nip this in the bud and have a chat with his star, RB. Then he needs to get his line to block someone. If those things don’t happen, then what is now just hot air could turn into the Hindenburg.