Ask Cornelius Washington about his spring working at defensive end, and the senior can‚Äôt help but get excited about what he‚Äôs seen from the Georgia defense as a whole.
‚ÄúI‚Äôve had some pretty good practices and I‚Äôve shown some potential at this new position, but, man, the defense overall has been kicking behind,‚Äù Washington said. ‚ÄúAnd that‚Äôs what we‚Äôre used to, we‚Äôre used to kicking butt. We‚Äôre going to go out and do that every day in practice and keep the tradition going of a hard-nosed defense that gets the job done.‚Äù
Washington made his share of plays at outside linebacker last season on a defense that finished ranked in the top five nationally in yards allowed. His five sacks and 29 quarterback pressures in 12 games ranked second on the team, but defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has Washington and sophomore Ray Drew focused on the defensive line this spring.
‚ÄúThat gives us the flexibility to put the next best guy in the game,‚Äù he said.
After Saturday‚Äôs first spring scrimmage, the fifth-year senior said he didn‚Äôt play a snap at outside linebacker on the day.
‚ÄúUh-uh,‚Äù Washington said. ‚ÄúNot a one.‚Äù
Washington is lining up either outside the tackle or outside the guard, depending on the defensive package. Grantham sees Washington and Drew as athletic players who can provide a pass rush on the inside in his 3-4 scheme but says they can still play outside linebacker.
‚ÄúAthletically, I‚Äôve got a very, very large advantage,‚Äù Washington said. ‚ÄúMost guards aren‚Äôt going to be able to block guys kind of similar to the attributes that we have across the D-line. It‚Äôs almost like stealing sometimes, to be honest with you.‚Äù
Washington says he‚Äôs still carrying 270 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame, but he looks more muscular this spring.
‚ÄúThis offseason workouts, he‚Äôs working on his flexibility and you can see the difference,‚Äù inside linebacker Christian Robinson said. ‚ÄúHe‚Äôs changing direction better. He looks a little better, too. Now he has his hand in the dirt a little bit more. I can expect him to have that speed advantage on people. I‚Äôm looking forward to seeing him play.‚Äù
Georgia coach Mark Richt singled out Washington last week as a player who has been a difference maker in the first half of spring practices.
‚ÄúOne guy in particular that‚Äôs just been showing up every day in my opinion is Cornelius Washington,‚Äù Richt said. ‚ÄúJust really physical at the point and pretty dominant against the run. Certainly doing a good job rushing the passer as well as always, but really seeing a lot of good things from him.‚Äù
Said Washington: ‚ÄúPrevious years I‚Äôve focused mainly on stopping the run and then other years it was pass rusher. This is my last year and I‚Äôm just trying to put it all together. I‚Äôm just trying to be that complete player. I‚Äôve said a couple of times I want to be the total package, be that every down guy and that‚Äôs truly what I‚Äôm trying to do.‚Äù
Washington said he thought ‚Äúvery heavily‚Äù about making the jump to the NFL after his junior season but that he was pulled back to Athens on a defense loaded with returnees. That defense, though, is expected to be missing key players to start the season who are facing suspension: Sanders Commings, Branden Smith, Bacarri Rambo and Alec Ogletree.
‚ÄúI couldn‚Äôt leave these guys, I couldn‚Äôt go somewhere and feel like I had unfinished business here at UGA,‚Äù Washington said.
Washington is willing to switch positions on defense if it means it will help the team win.
‚ÄúIt gives us the ability to get more guys on the field that can create pressure, create speed and just wreak havoc and just have all kinds of things in the quarterback‚Äôs face,‚Äù Washington said. ‚ÄúNot saying that we haven‚Äôt had it in previous years but it just ups it a little bit. It just puts a little extra bit of pressure and quarterbacks hate that. They hate anything in their face, they hate any kind of disruption.‚Äù