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Al Saunders: Portis can get 2,500 all purpose yards

Coach Al Saunders talks at length about Clinton Portis over at the Official Site focusing mostly on how he is familiarizing himself finally with what Portis can do. Some of the quotes I found borderline troublesome, such as:

"With Clinton, I wasn't around him enough in practice because he didn't practice a whole lot and he didn't play very many games. It has taken him almost to the end of this year to play at the level we would expect him to play. We're just getting a comfortable feeling for what he can do.[.."]
It is true that Portis didn't get to play much in '06. Although I knew that Portis wasn't the most active practicer on the team, you never like hearing one of your coaches talk about how little his player sees during practice. That said, they've now had a full season with one another and if they haven't figured out what Portis is capable of in this offense by now, they won't. Saunders thinks they have:
"If your running back is one-dimensional, then you're a one-dimensional team and you don't move the ball real well. Now that Clinton is a part of the entire offensive system, he is realizing how much more of a football player he can be than just a runner.

"He can be a 2,500 all-purpose yard back in this league and that's what you want. You want a running back making an impact in a lot of different phases of the game."

That's incredibly high praise for Portis who has yet to break the 2,000 yard mark in all purpose yards. His best year came in 2003 when he had a hair over 1,900 yards.

The offensive coordinator would sing the praises of his starting running back, but before you dismiss this as merely gushing, placating praise, remember that Saunders is about the most qualified person in the league at identifying outstanding all around running backs. He was with the Rams in 1999 when Marshall Faulk came very close to that mark (2,429) and was with the Chiefs when Priest Holmes racked up 2,287 total yards in 14 games (over 163 per game, which prorates to over 2,500 over a 16 game season).

Now I don't think Portis will get 2,500 yards -- prove me wrong -- because that's simply too high a number to reach. Not even Ladanian Tomlinson has managed that many and I think he's about the best overall running back I've ever seen. I can't think of any RB who has. But Clinton Portis is getting more involved in the passing game and that is a development I welcome whole heartedly. Saunders argues that running backs should love to catch since it gives them the ball in space. CP's strength as a runner (and he's good at a lot of things) is avoiding tacklers and that means get the man the ball in space. And we are, per the Post:

[Clinton Portis] set career highs in receptions and receiving yards while improving as a receiving threat out of the backfield, providing a dependable target for quarterback Todd Collins on "check-down" passes when primary receivers were covered.

Portis's progress in that phase of the offense helped Washington win its final four games and clinch the NFC's last wild-card berth. The Redskins (9-7) will face the Seattle Seahawks (10-6) in the first round Saturday at Qwest Field, and Washington's wide receivers need new material to tease Portis...

In 16 games, Portis had 47 receptions -- fourth on the team -- for 389 yards (an 8.3-yard average). His previous best totals were 40 catches and 364 yards. And Portis remained productive as the Redskins' featured running back, rushing for at least 1,200 yards for the fifth time in his six-year career.

I'm ready to see more in these playoffs and said as much earlier tonight. I think getting him the ball in space is a great way of a) throwing a curve ball at opposing defensive coordinators, since we haven't typically used him as much in the passing game except as a run blocker and b) helps protect the quarterback since an available RB check down is a fine way to avoid a pass rush. The Seahawks are one of the best pass rushing teams in the league and Todd Collins will need all the help he can get against the likes of Patrick Kerney, who leads the NFC in sacks.