Interim head coach and linebackers coach Brian Cabral has made it clear that all the linebackers need to get better every day. He has said the linebackers will key the success of the defense in 2004.
Though it's difficult to get a clear read on how Washington is progressing, it's safe to report that he hasn't lost his hitting power. Media is not allowed to watch practices. However, members of the press couldn't help but be privy to a play near the end of Saturday's scrimmage when the door to the fields inadvertently swung open. The play resembled one that Washington was in on late last season that sent an opposing running back spinning out of bounds. Saturday, a Colorado running back had found some running room outside, squared his shoulders with the goal line and was moving strong toward the end zone, when Washington streaked across and laid a lick on him. The hit changed the running back's direction nearly 90-degrees and sent him hurtling out of bounds.
Washington is surprisingly humble when you bring up his reputation for being a big hitter.
"It's nice to hear, but I just do my job," he says. "It's good for them to say it, but I'm just trying to get better ever day."
And there's no question Washington needs to get better if he is to reach his potential on the field. Coaches say his ability to read what the offense is doing every time needs to catch up with his ability to put a hurt on opponents when he's in the right position. But defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz noticed that Washington was a physical player when he went through film of him from last year this past winter.
"When he hits you there's force to it," Hankwitz says. "He showed some instinctive things. I thought he was a young player that is starting to come into his own."
Hankwitz explained Washington's knack for laying the big hit.
"Some players know how to roll their hips and use the strong part of their bodies," he says. "He does a great job of using his body that way. And some of it's a mentality, where guys take pride in being tough, physical players. I think he does that. Plus, he's a pretty compact stout guy. That helps those other factors."
Interestingly, Washington made more tackles per play for the Buffs last season than any of his teammates (26 tackles in 123 plays from scrimmage). But his reads were sometimes inconsistent, and questions about his speed and coverage ability lingered. Hankwitz, however, has been surprised by Washington's ability to move around.
"He's shown excellent change of direction," Hankwitz says. "He's a better pass defender than I thought. He appeared to me to be a strong run player, but I wasn't sure about his ability to move in space. But he's better at that than I thought he would be."
Still, it's Washington's reads that will key his development and playing time this spring and fall.
"He has to consistently read his keys," Hankwitz says. "There's some lapses where he doesn't read his keys like he's supposed to. I don't know if it's that he guesses or loses his focus.
"That will allow him to be more productive, if he can get himself in the right position more often."
It's a message that Washington seems to understand. And barring anything unforeseen that takes him out of practice, this will be Washington's first full spring session after he missed most of last spring ball for disciplinary reasons. The consistent reps in practice could lead to more consistency in game situations, and make him a valuable part of the defense.
"I'm looking to be a big value to this defense," he says. "If I keep on learning and doing what I have to do, I think I will be out there making plays."
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