After all, he explains, "Everybody has ability, but everyone doesn't take the technique into the game every play."
This is what Washington intends for his third college campaign. As does the State staff, and not just for this one cover-cornerman. "You listen to any of the coaches, that's the first thing that comes out of their mouths. It's technique," Washington reports. But he's taking the word to heart this year, because technical mastery seems all that is left between Washington being just another competent conference cornerback and a true SEC standout.
The resume is respectable already. After playing all 12 freshman games in relief or on special teams, Washington started seven of his dozen 2007 games (missing Gardner-Webb with back problems) and posted 44 tackles with four pass deflections. Even after losing his starting job at right cornerback he got plenty of action off the bench with a season-best six solo tackles in the Egg Bowl victory.
Yet for all that Washington believes he still must be that much better to feel comfortable about, and in, a starting job again. So he's attacking this summer as if it were an opposing receiver. "It's going pretty good so far. I feel I'm getting in good shape, the kind of shape I want to be in for this year. I just want to be able to last a whole season and try to prevent injury as much as possible, and be able to play all the snaps I can."
Washington's commitment to conditioning is with good reason. He admits to at times feeling just a bit fatigued in the late going after chasing folks around the field. Not a lot, certainly nothing a fan would notice, but just enough to worry about a wideout getting lucky. And that is too much in an unforgiving game. "So I'm trying to keep my body in tip-top shape the whole season," he says.
"Playing SEC football your body is going to get tired. But this is the time that you train as much as possible." And then do more in seven-on-seven drills, honing that technique on tough teammates with their own tactical and technical ambitions. It makes for a long July day, Washington agrees, but there's nothing he would rather be doing right now. "I mean, that's why you play the game. We know it's going to be a grind but you try to put that in the back of your head and give it your best."
Like a lot of young defensive backs Washington, an all-star at Fort Bend Marshall High in Texas, arrived convinced talent and time were all the requirements for collegiate success. And even in that infrequent 2006 action the kid showed a knack for making plays, such as a couple of recovered fumbles—one for a touchdown against Tulane. Still there have been some consistency issues and in mid-October last fall Jasper O'Quinn took over on the right corner. Washington did get back in the starting lineup, only at left cornerback in place of the injured Anthony Johnson for the Liberty Bowl.
Now Washington seems back on track and is booked to start again, back on the right corner. "I think I was pretty solid in spring. I just tried to work on my technique more, you know that's something that kind of got behind last year was my technique. So that's something I'm trying to focus on and come out here and get better every day."
As for questions about his having to keep fighting for his place in the starting lineup, not to worry. "Oh, no, I always like competition. Because that's how you get better. Every day you're out here competing with everybody just to get better." In this case Washington is competing with redshirt freshman Damein Anderson, a sharp young cover-man himself who has had enough waiting for a turn. Washington seems sincere in welcoming the challenge.
"We're all SEC football players and out here competing every day, and the best man will play," he says. It's up to Coach Melvin Smith to pick his best men on the corners, and where to put them. However Washington is a bit unusual in this respect; he doesn't care which side he is assigned to cover. "Either is good," he says. "A corner is a corner.
"I can do both. I just try wherever I'm at to be as comfortable as possible, comfortable with my technique on both sides. Just as long as I'm in my position and giving my team the best chance to win."
The summer has put a few more pounds on Washington, now a solid 185, with no loss of speed. In fact he hopes he's faster this junior season and not just from better strength and conditioning efforts. "That's part of technique, too," he notes. Because after all, making the right moves in the right method is the easiest way to shave a tick off the 20- and 40-times. "We've been doing a lot of speed work and I believe that's helped."
Come August, all the speed and strength and smarts Washington can muster will be required in Coach Sylvester Croom's typically demanding pre-season regimen. Even cornerbacks have to get down and dirty in drills, much less scrimmages.
"Because we do a lot of hitting," says Washington. "Especially here, we do a lot of hitting! But that's why you have to train right now. We've got a good coach in Coach (Ben) Pollard and he's going to get you ready." Ready, the cornerback adds, for what should be a special season. Prognosticators are saying good things about his defensive backfield mates and Washington isn't going to argue.
"I believe we're going to have one of the best secondaries in the country. And that's something we keep working toward. Our goal this year is to be the best."
And Washington's accompanying goal is to be the very best cornerback on the field. He's shown the ability and gained the experience. Now there's that one aspect to perfect, and that word heard over and over and over this summer.
"You always have to have your technique with you. You may get tired but as long as you have your technique you should be in good shape."