It might have surprised some fans when Arkansas head football coach Bret Bielema pronounced senior Carroll Washington the best cornerback on campus recently, but it shouldn't have.
Washington (6-0, 190), who got his feet wet on the major college level last season as a junior college transfer, had 18 tackles last season (8 of those against South Carolina) while playing in 11 games.
“He was a guy that was already being recruited here but he remained on our board,” Bielema said. “When he got here, he weighed 162 pounds and now he is 195 pounds and the best corner on our team, playing lights out and I’m excited to watch him grow.”
Washington, a Maryland native, takes great pride in hearing that.
“That's why I go out there each and every day and give my best at it,” Washington said. “For him to say that is an honor. I am thankful for that compliment and it is just going to push me harder to keep on going.”
Washington has worked hard on and off the field to lock down one of the starting cornerback spots.
“I think it's been just being a better student of the game,” Washington said. “Getting in that playbook each and every day and just going over things that I don't know. Asking questions to my coaches and watching film.”
He also credits a couple of new Razorback coaches in defensive coordinator Robb Smith and secondary coach Clay Jennings in his development.
“I think it impacted a lot,” Washington said. “Without those two guys we wouldn't have made the gains that we have made thus far. They came in here and wholeheartedly believed in us and they just instilled in us that they were going to bring the scheme and all we needed to do was bring the effort and everything would be good. They knew our talent and just wanted to make us better in all aspects of the game.”
That has played into Washington having more confidence.
“I think that is because I have more trust in my coaches now,” Washington said. “That's not to say I didn't have trust in them last year, but it is moreso this year.”
Smith's new scheme brings far more aggressiveness on the field and that makes Washington a happy camper.
“I actually played a lot of press coverage in my junior college days and for Coach Smith to come here and say we are going to do a lot more pressing on the receivers – I was like 'okay, bring it on.' That is what I used to do. Getting up in their face and using my hands on them and being real physical with them. At the end of the day, receivers really don't like being touched. As long you can get up there and disrupt their route for the first three seconds of the play, it is going to be a good outcome.”
He is excited about Saturday's open scrimmage at 3 p.m.
“It is just basically just getting that feel for game day,” Washington said. “When we get the crowd in there, we get the energy from the crowd and it helps us play better on the field.”
According to Washington, Arkansas' defense has been concentrating on three areas heading into the season opener at Auburn on Aug. 30.
“It is in our philosophy to stop the run, limit the big plays and create takeaways,” Washington said. “We are looking to execute that second point to the fullest. We got a couple of takeaways last week and we are looking to do more. We think one of our key aspects to winning the Auburn game is creating turnovers. We definitely want to major in that field.”
The taste of last year's 3-9 season has pushed the Razorbacks according to Washington.
“I think we just basically took this off-season to take time to reflect on last season,” Washington said. “We realize we don't want to be in that same predicament we were in last season. We took it as a time to get better in all aspects of the game – get stronger, get faster and become more students of the game.”
Washington got into a practice scuffle with wideout Drew Morgan earlier this week.
“It was actually pretty funny afterwards,” Carroll said. “That's my brother at the end of the day. We actually shook hands when we got in the locker room and said 'we're good, we're brothers at the end of the day' and just went on about our workout. It's all good right now.”
• • •
Arkansas defensive line coach Rory Segrest and defensive tackle Darius Philon are excited about what they have seen out of new first-team nose guard Taiwan Johnson during practice this week.
The 257-pound Johnson is smallish for an SEC nose guard, but Philon says forget about that.
“Size doesn't matter as long as you have the heart to play defense,” Philon said. “You have go out and penetrate your gap and do whatever...It's all about going out there and having your motor running every play. If you have the mindset that you are too small, you might play small.”
Arkansas is working Johnson and true freshman Bijhon Jackson (6-2, 317) as its top two nose guards.
“They both have the same job and I have always been about whoever can get it done,” Segrest said. “Regardless of size, strength, they have a job to get done and as long as they are doing that, physical attributes on just a number to me.”
“Bijhon is coming along well,” Segrest said. “He is quick, he is explosive and he still has got some freshmen in here where there are plays he tries to take off. But we try to keep pushing him out there and focusing on getting better with each rep. He is a prideful guy. He wants to do what you ask him to do.”
Former offensive lineman Grady Ollison will get his first scrimmage snaps at defensive tackle on Saturday.
“Grady has been a little banged up lately, but he is taking a couple of reps in there and has some power and he is fairly athletic for a bigger guy,” Segrest said. “We are going to continue to rep him and see how that unfolds.”
Washington Looking To Lead The Way
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