Whether it is Jason Campbell or a rookie first-round pick behind center for the Redskins, it is instrumental that Washington gets far more from its running game under new coach Mike Shanahan than it did a year ago.
With Shanahan in charge, surely the Redskins will switch to more of a zone blocking scheme that he made so famous while he was in Denver. That means the Redskins’ battered and aged offensive line must get much more athletic. To me, that is priority No. 1 for this new regime. Taking an athletic left tackle -- maybe Russell Okung -- with their first draft pick would be a tremendous first step and building block -- much like Shanahan did in Denver with Ryan Clady, whom I consider the best left tackle in the game today. Shanahan has a tremendous reputation for finding smaller, athletic linemen who fit his system in the middle and late rounds, but left tackle is a little different. A true building block is needed up front along with an abundance of later draft picks who fit the zone blocking mold. The Redskins’ run blocking was among the very worst in the league last season. Major changes are needed.
Shanahan also has a tremendous reputation for finding tough downhill runners who are quick to make a read, stick their foot in the ground and make a sharp cut upfield. Once again, he has found such runners in the middle rounds and generally doesn’t tie up a lot of resources with running backs. That leads us to Clinton Portis.
Personally, I think Portis is done. However, he is very tough, is an exceptional pass-blocker and has an understanding of the Shanahan system, in which he was very successful before being traded to the Redskins. Also, keeping him around this season wouldn’t have a negative impact on the salary cap. Those are the benefits and I could see Portis being useful while Washington brought in a third- or fourth-round running back who might take time to get acclimated. But I still come back to how Portis looked early last season and frankly, I didn’t like it. Even then, he looked like a running back who had taken too many hits and lacked the explosiveness that he once had. Remember, this isn’t a particularly big runner and the toll on his body with his aggressive running style is extreme. He is no longer a difference-maker.
So overall, Portis probably has more value to Washington than to any other team in the league, but Ladell Betts and Quinton Ganther might be equally effective runners at this point. Keeping him makes some sense, but I surely would not be up in arms if the Redskins made him the next once-exceptional aging runner to be cut.