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The human sponge
After being inactive for the Seahawks’ first five games, rookie quarterback Josh Portis is the proverbial heartbeat away from being the Seahawks’ quarterback.
With the status of starter Tarvaris Jackson unclear for the team’s post-bye game against the Browns in Cleveland on Oct. 23 because of the strained pectoral he got in the second half of Sunday’s game, Jackson could be the backup to Charlie Whitehurst as the Seahawks will attempt to win back-to-back games in the regular season for the first time since Weeks 6-7 last season.
And coach Pete Carroll made it clear this week that he would not hesitate to go to the undrafted free agent, if needed.
“No, Josh Portis is here to play. He’s here to play football for us,” Carroll said when asked if the club was looking to sign a just-in-case quarterback.
“Josh is a very talented kid and if he’s in the No. 2 spot, I’m going to get him ready to play. I’m not going to have any hesitation putting him in the game. I’ve seen enough of him. I know what he can do.”
Even if few others outside the building do, because Portis last played in the preseason finale against the Oakland Raiders on Sept. 2. But Carroll’s comments were a symphony of satisfying words for him.
“That does make me feel good,” Portis said after Wednesday’s practice, the last of two for the team during its bye week.
Portis got the backup reps behind Whitehurst with the Seahawks’ offense this week and also was running the No. 2 unit that works against the Seahawks’ defense. It’s been a glut of snaps for a QB whose practice time has been very limited in the first six weeks of the regular season.
“I just try and work hard every day and continue to get better,” he said. “They’re getting me ready, and I’m getting the reps that I need to get ready.
“It’s funny how things change, and I’ve just got to be ready.”
What Portis is attempting to do is not easy. Improving your game while not getting a lot of reps to work on your game is difficult, as Jackson knows. He was in Portis’ situation as a rookie in 2006, when the Minnesota Vikings selected him in the second round of the NFL Draft.
“It’s hard,” Jackson said. “I’m not going to lie to you, it was hard. When you go from a star quarterback in college to not getting hardly any reps, you just try to learn as much as possible and be like a sponge.”
But then waiting his turn is nothing new for Portis. His protracted path from Woodland Hills, Calif., to Seattle took him to three high schools – Redondo Union, Long Beach Poly and Taft; and three colleges – Florida, Maryland and California University, which is in PA., not CA.
“I just have to be patient and stay ready,” Portis said. “I’ve already learned that. Just take each day and work extremely hard to be the best player I can become – mentally and physically.
“It’s something you’ve got to do and love. And that one I do, I love the game. I’m just trying to be like a sponge and learn as much as I can – learn from the vets, learn from the situations they put me in.”
As good as Portis has looked at times, and there are those occasional “Whoa” laser-like passes in practice, we’ve only just begun to see what kind of talent he possesses.
“Next spring, in the OTAs and minicamps, that’s when Josh will make a big jump,” Jackson said. “Right now, he’s just trying to absorb as much as he can, and there’s so much to absorb. But the learning he’s doing now, it will show up next spring.”
No one doubts Portis’ talent. In addition to his strong arm, he has mobility, scrambling ability and is athletic enough that he even plays receiver on the scout team the works against the Seahawks’ defense in practice.
“Whatever he wants, he can do it,” Jackson said. “So it’s just about learning the game at this level and staying focused.”
Portis agrees with that assessment, in that it is the mental aspect of everything that goes into playing his position at this level that allows the talented to become the vested.
“Everyone knows how to stay in this game, and that’s to work hard each day at your craft and prepare more mentally,” he said. “Physically, everybody here’s got that. Mentally, that’s where the game elevates.
“It’s just learning what to do. Just being a sponge on the sideline, in practice, in the meeting room.”
Portis has become the equivalent of a “gym rat” at the team’s facility. He comes in early on Monday and also Tuesday, the players’ off day. While teammates were scattering to all part of the country Wednesday afternoon for their bye-week break, Portis will be at Virginia Mason Athletic Center “working on my craft,” as he put it.
“I’m just preparing,” Portis said. “Because you never know. I’m getting an opportunity to do something I love. I’m having a blast. I’m enjoying it. I come to work every day smiling.”
The up-tempo, no-huddle approach the Seahawks have adopted as their primary offensive scheme also plays to Portis’ abundant strengths.
“The mode that we’re in would be exciting for him to be out there,” Carroll said. “He’ll be able to handle it.
“He’s going to cause problems for people if he plays.”