WASHINGTON – even in the stifling heat and humidity of a Washington Redskins training camp.
"When you have that much testosterone in one room, you've got to have somebody who can deal with it," Portis said this week. "I think Bobby Turner is the perfect guy for it."
When Mike Shanahan accepted the job as head coach in January, he went to great lengths to get the 61-year-old Turner to come along. The pair spent 14 seasons together with the Denver Broncos, churning out top-notch seasons from a slew of seemingly interchangeable running backs, including Terrell Davis, Reuben Droughns, Tatum Bell, Mike Anderson and Portis. Shanahan had to offer Turner the title of assistant head coach — along with running backs coach — to pry Turner away from the Broncos.
"Bobby demands perfection," Shanahan said, "and guys love Bobby because there is no nonsense and they know he knows what he's talking about."
Albert Haynesworth has stolen the headlines with his will-he-or-won't-he pass the conditioning test drama, but the No. 2 intriguing question at training camp concerns the aging star power the Redskins have assembled at running back. Portis and Parker are 29, and Johnson is 30. All three have been star ball carriers, but all three are about that age when the numbers start to decline.
Practice and preseason games will determine the eventual pecking order — or, for that matter, whether all three make the final roster. In the meantime, Turner is laying down the law the old school way — by mixing firm words with funny stories about the good ol' days.
"He provides a lot of the comedic relief," said Johnson, who played for Joe Paterno at Penn State and signed as a free agent with the Redskins in the offseason. "He always brings up the Denver old school days. He sounds so much like Joe. Joe never brought up the '80s and '90s; he always brought up the '70s and '60s. Coach Turner always brings up Terrell and the other guys."
Turner fully embraces his old school reputation.
"No question about it," Turner said. "If you want to put a couple of more 'old, old, old' to it. It's about run blocking, tackling, 'yes,' 'no,' being respectful, busting your tail, playing the game hard, nothing less."
Portis appears to be taking the message to heart. Known for his dislike of offseason workouts and in-season practices, the sometimes moody and often flamboyant running back was a steady participant in the team's conditioning program this year. And, of course, the additions of Johnson and Parker have put him on notice that, in the Shanahan-Turner world, even a veteran with 9,600 yards rushing can be made expendable unless he's willing to follow the rules.
"That's why we've had success playing a lot of younger players" in Denver, Turner said. "They're open-minded, more receptive. And if an older player can do it, more power to him. And if he can't, then he's taken himself out of the loop."
Turner coached Portis with the Broncos in 2002-03, when Portis had back-to-back 1,500-yard seasons.
"I never wanted to change Clinton — I want to him work," Turner said. "I want him to play on game day and I want him to practice hard. I have never tried to change his personality. I want him to play within the rules, but I don't get into guys' personal lives. I want him here. I want him on time, and I want him practicing hard. The bottom line is if he does that, because he does have ability, we're going to win games."
That said, neither Portis nor any of the running backs are about to emulate Turner's all-sweats practice attire. Turner says his tolerance for heat dates from his college days at Indiana State, when he would work in the blast furnace of a steel mill to help pay his way through school.
"That's hot. This," he said, gesturing with his arms on another humid Virginia day, "is a piece of cake."
Notes: First-round pick LT Trent Williams had some tightness in his hip during practice, but Shanahan said it wasn't serious. ... WR Mike Furrey (concussion), RT Jammal Brown (hip) and WR Malcolm Kelly (hamstring) are still sidelined.