You can reach Rich Tandler by email at WarpathInsiders@comcast.net
It didn't quite seem to add up.
The members of the media were allowed to watch practice for the first 45 minutes on Thursday. It's not unusual to see injured players out of the field riding a stationary bike (that's not something that TO has a monopoly on; LaVar Arrington did it quite a bit the last couple of years) or, as Shawn Springs was on that day, standing out there in shorts and a jersey, playing catch, watching drills, doing what he could to stay engaged and involved even though it was unlikely that he would play.
It's also not unusual for an injured player not to be out there, as was the case with Clinton Portis. Players often stay in the facility for treatment.
What is very unusual, however, is for a player to be inside the building for the beginning of a practice but a participant in the latter part of the session, the part that takes place after the press is booted out. But that was what happened with Portis on Thursday.
After practice was over we went downstairs and outside to catch some of the players coming off the field to talk to them and to talk to Joe Gibbs. We expected to be able to talk to Portis but we were thought we would find him inside near the locker room. It was a mild day and all of those coming off the field were still wearing their shoulder pads. All except for Portis, that is, who approached the building dressed in sweats, no pads or helmet. It was only after we had talked to him for a few minutes that it was revealed that he had not only practiced but he had done so in pads. That particular bit of information was not revealed without prompting and the question almost went unasked because we had all assumed that he had just worked out, not practiced.
While this did have some of us curious, this feeling was dampened by what we heard Portis and Gibbs say. The story that was written and broadcast was on what we heard, that Portis was just 75%, and not on what we saw, that he had practiced in pads. Portis probably wouldn't play on Monday night. A downgrade from questionable to doubtful or out seemed to be imminent.
In this space, I thought about writing about what I saw as opposed to what I heard, but I wasn't all that convinced that Portis would play. It would have been a wishy-washy story and those usually aren't very interesting. To pat myself on the back a bit, however, I did choose to take a wait and see stance on it, not amplifying the smokescreen or contradicting my earlier article and my gut feeling by writing that Portis was out.
Of course, most of the folks who wrote the "Portis is out" stories did not have the luxury of making that choice. They had to write something about it and the purpose here is not to fault their judgment in writing what they did. They went with the preponderance of the evidence even though there was some cause for reasonable doubt in plain view.
On Friday Portis again practiced and proclaimed that he was thinking along the lines of coming back in a week in Dallas. Again, the fact that he practiced was lost in the verbiage. Why the team would waste valuable practice time on reps for a guy who was virtually certain not to play was a question that went unasked.
The smokescreen continues, of course. We don't know—and, more importantly, the Vikings don't know—who will start and we don't know how much Portis will play. But the "if" part of the smokescreen is over. Portis has been upgraded to probable and the Redskins would not risk the league scrutiny that would ensue in the wake of falsifying the official injury report. Barring a legitimate setback, Portis will play.
There are those out there who think that if Portis is not well enough to start that he should sit it out. The fact is that who starts is not relevant. What matters is how many carries Portis gets. I think he'll get about 15 to 18 regardless of whether he starts or comes in off the bench.
Why not wait a week and have him come back against Dallas with a little more rest? First, you can't go into any NFL game saying that you don't need the services of one of your best players in order to beat that week's opponent. Minnesota is a good, solid team that is very capable of springing what would be just a mild upset on Monday. Also, Portis had just a couple of weeks of training camp and he hasn't played facing live contact save for those few plays almost a month ago. It is unlikely that he will carry a heavy load in his first game back regardless of whether it's this week or next. He'll need this game to get back into game shape if he's going to return to his customary role of carrying the load against Dallas.
It appears that this was the plan all along. That's my conspiracy theory and I'm sticking to it.
Rich Tandler is the author of The Redskins From A to Z, Volume 1: The Games. This unique book has an account of every game the Redskins played from when the moved to Washington for the 1937 season through 2001. For details and ordering information go to http://www.RedskinsGames.com