Pittsburgh Steelers including a version of 'The Natural' at this year's camp

It's been almost five years since he last played in the NFL, but Steelers' cornerback confident that he's never been better

Donald Washington knows how Le'Veon Bell feels.

Washington once let down his team, his family and himself, and he's still fighting for redemption in this tryout with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Four years ago, Washington was enjoying the final weeks of the offseason following his third season with the Kansas City Chiefs. The 6-0, 197-pound cornerback with the  4.5 speed and crazy 45-inch vertical jump was hoping to start more than the three games he had started in 2011, but on July 21 he was stopped for speeding and arrested for DUI/marijuana. He was cut by the Chiefs on Aug. 31, bounced around the CFL a bit and hasn't played an NFL game since.

He's back at age 30 with the Steelers and believes "I'm better than I've ever been, mentally and physically."

Washington has never seen the movie "The Natural" and never heard of Roy Hobbs but understands the difficulty of what he's trying to pull off.

"Yeah, but honestly, when you're real passionate about something, you just kind of keep going," Washington said during the spring, when he consistently lined up with the Steelers' second defensive unit.

"You don't really pay attention to the time that's passing," he said. "This has always been a dream, and yes I've taken a different path to get here. But it's not like I'm the oldest DB in the league. There are guys my age but they've been playing the past four years. My past four years have been a different path, but to get back here has always been my passion. This is always what I was working towards. Regardless of how I had to get to his point I would still try to get here regardless of the age, how many years it's been, or whatever."

Washington won't blame his release from the Chiefs solely on the legal incident. He credits those who beat him out that camp, but adds "it definitely didn't help me."

It's happened so long ago that it's obvious he's put it behind him. But Washington sat out the 2012 and 2013 seasons, played for Toronto in the CFL in 2014 and Hamilton in 2015, and was released. Can he put that behind him?

How, Washington was asked, can a player who couldn't make it in the CFL be expected to make it in the NFL?

"I can't get caught up into that," he said. "I just have to stay focused on what I'm after, and that's staying healthy and just leaving everything out on the field and let the coaches determine what's going to happen. The only opinions I'm trying to impress are the coaches. If I'm on this team I don't think anybody will worry about the story of where I come from."

Washington says he's "definitely" better than his previous incarnation in the league. "I'm more healthy. I'm more mature, on and off the field. I just have a different understanding about what it takes to be a professional, how to take care of my body, how to handle my daily routines, what type of guy I need to be in the locker room. I think the good thing is I do have some experiences, different experiences. I have a little playing experience, I faced a lot of adversity, I went to a different league. So I think those aren't bad things. Those are just part of my journey so I don't run away from those things. I don't hide from them. I just think it's the path I had to take. I could've given up a long time ago but that's just not me. This is my passion. This is what I want to do until I can't do it anymore."

Washington called his experience in Kansas City "great, a great city, great organization. But I love where I'm at. I love this team. I love this city, of what I've seen. This is a first-class organization."

He also said that he's not aware if his coach with Kansas City at the time, current Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley, had anything to do with the Steelers signing him before the start of spring practices in May.

"He coached me," Washington said, "but in 2009, when I came out for the draft, I had a couple of meetings with the Steelers. There was interest there. I talked to Coach Tomlin. He remembered me from the interviews we had back in the day and we talked. He's giving me the opportunity, so I don't want to say it was one reason or the other. I'm glad I got the opportunity however it came."

Back in 2009, Washington was coming out of Ohio State following a senior season that started with a two-game suspension. The Steelers had to like the athleticism of the top jumper at the Combine that year, and they did need a cornerback, but selected Keenan Lewis six picks before the Chiefs took Washington with pick 102.

Seven years later, both the Steelers and Washington get a second chance.

He might not be able to jump 45 inches vertically any more, but he feels wisdom will make up for it.

"I definitely think what I do have I can use to the best of my ability," he said. "I would definitely say I'm in my best shape. And I'm at peace inside, so it's easier to take care of things I need to take care of when I'm not distracted and pulled in so many different directions."


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