Before the time of his injury, the Florida coaches were working Washington at cornerback only. He knew playing one position probably wouldn't last for long, but it offered him a chance to learn the specifics of one spot before the coaches gave him more to learn. That came before the start of spring practice.
The coaches sat him down and talked to him about moving around on the practice field but taking a majority of his reps at safety, just like Watkins did last season. He already knew the cornerback position, and the safety position takes a large responsibility with knowing the calls of the defense. It was a move that would improve his knowledge of the entire defense instead of just one spot.
"There is a lot of information," Nick Washington said. "I know that in the end it will help us. There's just a lot of concepts to learn, and every day, we're installing and learning something new. You have to move fast and keep up."
That's what he learned from Watkins. The quiet defensive back moved all over the Florida defense, going wherever necessary depending on the other position. When Florida developed depth at cornerback and lost Matt Elam and Josh Evans before last season, Watkins slid over to safety and stayed productive.
Washington and Watkins developed a close relationship as the senior groomed his replacement last season.
"I was able to learn the defense, character skills, especially from J-Wat being able to play them all at once," Washington said. "That really helped, talking to him every day to learn a lot. It was good to see him back for Pro Day. I really enjoyed playing with him."
The role is going exactly how the Florida coaches wanted it to. With Keanu Neal out for the first half of spring with a hamstring injury, Washington played safety. Now that Neal is expected back at full strength soon, Washington will move to cornerback and nickel to stay fresh at those positions, too.
But regardless of where he has been, the redshirt freshman is making his presence felt on the field.
"He made a nice tackle on the goal line the other day," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "He had an interception in one-minute. Had an interception Saturday. I think that he continues to show up in the right spots and that's a positive thing when you haven't been exposed to the position as much."
The original plan was for Washington to spend the spring with the Florida baseball team, but that was derailed when he wasn't cleared from the shoulder injury until late February. He says his focus is completely on football "right now," as he tries to win a starting job at safety.
With four veterans gone from the secondary, there are three open jobs in the defensive backfield and Washington wants one of them. But the competition is high between the young players.
"It's really different," Washington said. "I was a freshman last year, and you come in seeing those guys as a recruit then you're playing with them. The next year, they're gone. You have to take their position and step up to the plate. It's going to be exciting."