Chicago Bears rookie defensive end Cornelius Washington was accomplished enough at the University of Georgia to be named to the 2012 Butkus Award preseason watch list. And although Washington didn't win final honors, his potential and accomplishments made scouts take notice.
Yet Washington fell lower in the 2012 draft than many experts had predicted. Although he made an impact at the combine with a combination of strength and quickness, some questioned Washington's second effort, stamina and hustle. The Bears had Washington on their draft board and picked him in the sixth round, seeing huge upside in the young player.
In person, Washington is modest and surprisingly soft-spoken for a 6-4, 265-pound behemoth. He talked with Bear Report after finishing the final day of mandatory minicamp this week.
"I'm so proud and thrilled to be here," Washington said. "It's a dream come true. Chicago is definitely a long way from Georgia but I see myself acclimating to this situation very quickly. If it's a matter of desire, then I have all that and more."
"I think that, as a rookie, the more time you get behind the vets the better," said Washington. "I enjoy watching them work from the sidelines but I enjoy being out there with them even more."
Washington has played organized football since the eighth grade and always had hopes of reaching the NFL.
"I think just about any kid you see on any field playing this game will tell you he wants to make it to the pros," he said. "If you didn't think that way, why even bother working so hard? For me, I guess my NFL hopes really came up during college ball. I was doing real well and I thought maybe I will be able to take this further."
Washington was a three-year starter for the Bulldogs and finished his collegiate career with 10.5 sacks. Yet a DUI arrest in 2011 and a down senior season, in which he had just 0.5 sacks, dropped his stock heading into the draft. As draft day approached, Washington found his anticipation building.
"I was with my family and friends for those early rounds and I have to admit, it was pretty frustrating not hearing my name being called. But through their support I got through it OK. When the Bears finally made contact, I was ecstatic. I thought right away that I'd be a good fit for the team. I guess the only downside that crossed my mind was that I'd probably have to buy a coat."
Washington majored in sports management at Georgia and hopes to follow that path once his football career has concluded.
"But I see that happening far, far into the future," he said. "What I am concentrating on are the things that are happening right now. I'm working on my technique. I'm learning the playbook. I'm aiming at the tight end across the line from me. There's a lot being thrown at the rookies right now and we need to absorb everything to be effective."
Washington said right now he's working on better hand usage in his pass rush, as well as developing more explosiveness off the ball.
"That's the difference between college and the pros. Here you've got to get off the ball and be fast, be so fast. The more reps I can get the better. You know how they say that practice makes perfect. Well, I intend to be perfect."
Between now and the beginning of training camp in late July, Washington plans to continue his conditioning program, then take a quick break to fly home to visit with family and his former UGA teammates.
"I talk to those guys just about every day," Washington said. "I hope I'm able to give them an idea of what happens once you reach the NFL. They've been an enormous support for me through this journey, and if I can pay it forward as they graduate and look toward a career in the pros, I'd be so proud."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.