While Marcus Washington adapts to this latest twist on camp scheduling by Coach Dan Mullen and staff, he doesn't need any extra time to develop an opinion on how this final college preseason is progressing.
"It's been pretty good for me," he said. "I've just been trying to practice my technique and to sharpen my skills." His skills as the starting right cornerback, that is, the spot where Washington started all dozen games last season. He has 19 total starts out of 36 games played since he came to campus from Missouri City, Texas in 2006 for his first preseason. Along the way Washington has established himself as a steady presence in the Bulldog secondary, reliable both in routine coverage as well as supporting against the run. The 94 career tackles affirm that.
So this senior season is just one more round of same-old same-old, right? Well, yes. And no. There are aspects to this camp that make it a bit more interesting for a veteran like Washington. First and foremost is the new coaching staff he's performing for this particular August, directed by Carl Torbush. It hasn't taken long for Washington to find favor with the new coordinator.
"He's a real feisty guy. But you can tell he loves what he does, he loves his job and he wants to take care of us. And I'm really confident in him." Of course it also helps that longtime MSU aide Melvin Smith is still around, providing his cornerbacks the unique mix of mentoring and motivation that suits the personalities required to play such a pressurized position.
Thing is, Washington has never had problems adjusting to either coaches or gameplans. One obvious reason of course is that whatever the overall scheme his position's requirements rarely change. "Not really, like you say cornerback is cornerback," Washington said. "You have the outside and most times he's putting you in one-on-one situations. So you just play your technique and play the call." At the same time Washington frankly says that in his Bulldog career he has been blessed with consistency from his coaches.
"Because really the three different coordinators basically run the same thing. So it's not been too much of a big transition, it's basically the same defenses." So Washington has just learned a new name and gone about his old job without worry, right?
Sure, along with speed and smarts cornerbacks must bring a boundless self-confidence to the game to do their mano-a-mano job. And while Washington is a bit more low-key than most of his peers be assured he knows his worth as a ballplayer. Yet…the senior maintains an equally-healthy attitude about what it takes to keep his place in the lineup.
"That's something I always take to the game, I always feel like I have to prove myself and have a chip on my shoulder. That's what you have to have to stay on top in this league."
Now there is one really new twist for Washington in 2009, which fans got to see for the first time in spring when the first-team cover man left his corner and lined up nearer the middle of the defensive set. He wasn't lost of course; he was trying to prove himself in an added role.
"I'm learning the nickel position so it's a little bit different. I'm slowly getting used to it." Slowly? Sure didn't look that way in April when the newest safety on the squad made his presence known whether piling into tackles or picking off passes. This has continued through August with Washington battling Wade Bonner for who is the first nickel man, in a contest where State should win either way. Naturally Washington's experience in coverage has helped speed up the transition from guarding a single opponent to watching the entire passing play develop.
But what really helps is…he likes this part-time task. "Defensive back is defensive back; play man-to-man and lock up your man," Washington stressed. Still, "It's something new for me. I've been playing cornerback for three years and it's just a challenge for me. And I'm up to the challenge. It's fun, I get to come down a hit a little bit!"
Washington believes the whole Bulldog secondary will be a big hit here in 2009. "We have the potential to be very good," he said. That's because while three players with a combined 35 starts out of 36 chances in '08 are graduated, the younger guys are more than ready to step into full-time jobs. On the left corner Damein Anderson has obvious abilities and simply needs to consistently apply it; as for the regular safeties Zach Smith and Charles Mitchell have waited their turn and now get to show why no drop-off is anticipated at all.
"And we've got some young talent, we just got to pull it all together," Washington said. Such as with the guy who would take his spot when the senior moves to nickel. "Louis Watson is a young guy with a lot of talent. I try to teach him the ropes and everything I've gone through to help him. But he's pretty good."
That brings up maybe the really biggest difference for Washington this year. He is the lone scholarship senior in the 2009 secondary. Yep, suddenly Washington finds himself the Old Dog in town, or at least in the defensive backfield. And he likes it because ranking-veteran stature allows him to take on a role that extends further beyond individual duty out on the corner.
He's become something of a coach to the kids on this roster.
"That's something I've been working on since the off-season and all through this summer. Just to pass along the knowledge I have to these younger guys. Because it does me no good to keep it to me, I want the secondary to be good. I want the team to be good."
Now, if only Washington and team can handle this week's late hours on the field and early hours off it...