By the time the third practice had begun in Olympia Dukes as lining up as one of Chuck Heater's cornerbacks. A position that had appeared deep before fall camp began soon became an opportunity as Derrick Johnson continues to rehab from a terrible ankle injury, Roc Alexander nurses a sore shoulder back to health, and Chris Massey is slowed by a sore groin.
"It's getting very comfortable now. I'm learning the system day by day, getting the plays and reads into my head," said Dukes after practice this morning.
"It hasn't been too bad of a transition. I think there's a better opportunity for me to play on defense. I played on defense in high school so it's a good change in my mind."
As the walking wounded recover from their injuries, Dukes has stayed healthy and has taken a lot more reps than anticipated. It's resulted in him improving each day. "I'm getting a lot of reps and that's good," he said. "They expect a lot from me and they're trying to get me into the rotation so I can learn the plays and be comfortable on defense."
He's currently in the mix at corner with Omare Lowe, Chris Massey, Sam Cunningham, Lenny Haynes. Roc Alexander should return soon. Washington likes to play six corners, and four see the field often.
At 6-0 and 194 pounds, Dukes is one of the bigger corners that Coach Chuck Heater has. "I came in here at 165 pounds and now I'm at 194. Getting into the weight room with Bill Gillespie gets you going," he added with a grin.
Putting on nearly 30 pounds in one year is an awful lot for a skill player but Dukes scoffs at that notion. "My speed is still there. I'm getting faster, really."
Washington plays an aggressive defense, something that Dukes enjoys a great deal. "I think this is a very tough defense. We stick together and we have to all know our assignments. It's a tough defense both mentally and physically."
He has gotten to work some at the punt return job along with Reggie Williams and Willie Hurst. Dukes is pleased that the coaches are taking a look at him in that role. "I should get a shot at that. I'd like to get out there and do my thing," said Dukes.
At Banning High School Dukes thing was getting the ball down field in a hurry. On just five punt returns as a senior, he had over 200 yards in returns.
"To tell you the truth I think it's going to be easier at this level because in high school I didn't have the blocks I'll get here."
There is no remorse over moving from defense. None whatsoever.
As Dukes leaves the practice field, he smiles and says, "I'm exactly where I want to be."
DT Terry Johnson
The coaches may have been surprised but Johnson was not.
"I worked hard all summer so I knew that I'd be up there in the depth challenging for a starting spot. I wasn't worried about that," said Johnson after practice today.
Johnson had played some defensive end in the spring but Randy Hart wanted to give him a look inside at the three-technique defensive line position on the interior. It has worked to everyone's satisfaction as Johnson is getting a look with the ones and pushing Jerome Stevens hard, making him a better player.
"It doesn't matter whether I play inside or out. It's all the same for us, no matter where you line up. Those techniques are all very similar. Jerome, Larry, and myself have a great rotation going right now. We all stay fresh and we all get a lot of repetitions," said Johnson.
"It's a good rotation. It's all good."
Johnson tips the scales at only 275 pounds, 25 pounds lighter than either Stevens or Tripplett. However he brings a quickness and agility to the table that more than compensates for any loss of leverage.
"I've dropped 15 pounds from last year. It helps me because I get off the ball a lot quicker. When you engage into the man in front of you, you need more strike, as opposed to push or softness. Being 275 really helps my explosion and strike."
The fact that he is a 4.8 40 guy also makes him a handful for offensive linemen that don't believe a man that big can motor up field that quickly.
The one area that Johnson must watch is his pad level. He stands nearly 6-5 and only gets into trouble when his pads come up to high. "If you play low, you can play anywhere on the field. When I'm down low and my ‘get off' is as good as it's been this camp, there's no problems."
Terry was a star volleyball player at McClintock High School in Arizona. Those skills translate extremely well to the gridiron. "My footwork is great from volleyball," he said. "It helps me move my feet and on the pass rush when I'm trying to get the edge on an offensive man. My footwork is pretty much second nature to me now," said the former front line spiker.
When asked if this year's defense should be better than it's predecessor, he chose to not make the comparison. "Last year's defense was it's own team, and we're a different team. I don't want to compare them," said Johnson.
"Let's just say that there's a lot of speed and power on this defense that we can bring at people."
Terry is a partial qualifier, meaning that he's listed as a sophomore even though he sat out last season. He can regain his lost year of eligibility by graduating in four years, something that is definitely in his plans. "It was frustrating to sit there last year and not work toward anything. Now that I'm playing and getting ready for Michigan I'm really excited," said Johnson.
"Last year taught me how college academics work and I got my feet wet. I definitely plan on graduating in four years and getting that extra year back."
If that happens, Johnson would have three full seasons of eligibility after this season is over.