Davis faces RB he bypassed

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 14, 2003

DENVER - Butch Davis went into the 2002 draft looking for a big, durable running back who could be effective in the often sloppy conditions of the AFC North.

He figured that was the way to go after looking around the division and seeing players like Jamal Lewis, Corey Dillon and Jerome Bettis.

When it came time to use the 16th pick in the draft, Cleveland's coach picked sturdy William Green instead of 205-pound Clinton Portis, even though he recruited Portis at the University of Miami.

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''When guys come into the league, you never have any idea,'' Davis said. ''You don't know the circumstances of the team that they're joining, what's the role they're going to play, what's the supporting cast, all the different dynamics.''

Davis will get a firsthand look at what Portis has become Sunday when the Browns (4-9) meet the Denver Broncos (8-5). He might not like what he sees.

Portis was the NFL's offensive rookie of the year last season after rushing for 1,508 yards - almost twice Green's total - and he has been better this year. Despite missing what amounted to two games with a bruised sternum, he's fourth in the league with 1,452 yards and has a gaudy 5.8 yards-per-carry average.

And Portis has gotten stronger as the season has progressed.

He had 165 yards on just 11 carries against Chicago on Nov. 23, and followed that with a 34-carry, 170-yard game against Oakland in the rain. Portis topped it last week against Kansas City, rushing for 218 yards - 188 in the second half - and five touchdowns in a 45-27 win that kept the Broncos in the thick of the AFC playoff race.

Not bad for the fourth running back taken in the 2002 draft.

''Stuff happens. You're not going to satisfy everybody, everybody's not going to like you,'' Portis said. ''You ain't going to be the back for everybody's system. I ended up in a great situation. I love being here with the Broncos and I'm glad that nobody did take me before then.''

Green rushed for 887 yards and six touchdowns last season, but it has been nothing but problems this year.

He was suspended by the league after being arrested for driving under the influence in October. While serving the suspension, his fiancee was accused of stabbing him in the back with a steak knife and police found marijuana in four places while searching his home that night. Just last week, the league extended Green's suspension, meaning it's unlikely he'll play again this season.

Still, Davis was sticking by his decision.

''Clinton obviously is a talented player and was able to join a team that recently had won two Super Bowls,'' he said. ''William Green joined a team that was an expansion team. It's different scenarios, so in hindsight, who's to say.''

Cleveland's problems go beyond Green. The Browns lost four starters last week, including defensive end Courtney Brown and James Jackson, Green's replacement. The offensive line has been a revolving door all season and Cleveland has lost 12 players for the season because of injuries.

The result is six losses in seven games and 75 points allowed the past two road games.

''It's been pretty much a roller-coaster season,'' quarterback Tim Couch said. ''It's been up and down, and we've had some big wins and decent games, but for the most part it's been a frustrating year. We were a playoff team last year and we expected to do a lot of great things this year. It's just not happened for us.''

Cleveland would seem like easy pickings for a team that's won three of four games and is fighting for a wild-card spot, but the Broncos know better.

The Browns, led by a stout line, have the league's 10th-ranked defense and are second-best in the red zone, allowing just 12 touchdowns in 39 attempts from inside the 20. And Couch is back as the starter after coming off the bench and nearly leading Cleveland to a comeback win over St. Louis.

''We know this team is very capable,'' Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe said. ''From a defensive standpoint, they're as tough as we're gong to see.''

Besides, the Broncos know what it's like to have a letdown against a team they should beat. It happened just three weeks ago against Chicago.

Denver was riding high after a 37-8 win over San Diego that ended a three-game losing streak. The Bears had one of the worst offenses in the league and entered the match with a 12-game road losing streak.

But instead of putting Chicago away, Denver was miserable on special teams, struggled scoring in the red zone and let the Bears hang around long enough to pull out a 19-10 win.

The Broncos can't afford that this week. They have a tiebreaker edge on Miami for the final AFC playoff spot and close the season with road games in Indianapolis and Green Bay.

''We're more into a must-win situation now than when the Bears came to town,'' Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer said. ''We know what we have to do now and we can't afford to let down in any way.''