ATHENS -- Last year, Cornelius Washington was competing with a fifth-year senior for a starting spot. This spring, he’s competing with a freshman who hasn’t even arrived yet.
When you look at him, however, it seems Washington shouldn’t be competing with anybody.
“Cornelius made a big hit in practice,” defensive end Derrick Lott said last week. “And I talked to him, and I (said), ‘Cornelius if you do this every time, every practice, every day, you’ll be real good.’ ”
So why hasn’t he been yet?
The junior from Hephzibah has the perfect size (6-foot-4 and 260 pounds) for outside linebacker and has shown the athleticism. He had four sacks as a redshirt freshman in 2009 and nine quarterback pressures.
But last year, according to Washington, his development was stunted by the introduction of a new defensive scheme.
“You know, I’d been playing in the old system so long. And then we switched, I was just trying to pick up things here and there,” he said. “I don’t really get things the fastest. It takes -- meetings help, and film helps, but I have to take reps. That’s the way I learn.”
He’s getting that chance this spring. Washington is getting the first-team reps at outside linebacker, with sophomore Reuben Faloughi behind him.
But Ray Drew looms.
The Thomas County Central senior, who signed with Georgia in February, was a five-star recruit according to all of the major recruiting services. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham has said Drew (6-5, 243 pounds) will get a chance at the outside linebacker spot currently occupied by Washington.
Last year, when Washington was competing with Darryl Gamble, he was blunt that he wasn’t going to give up the starting spot without a fight. They essentially played to a draw, with Washington starting eight games, but Gamble saw as many if not more snaps. Gamble was more productive (39 tackles to Washington’s 24, and 3.5 sacks to Washington’s one).
But Washington is taking a similar approach to this year’s position battle.
“I’m not the type of guy that’s gonna let a newbie come in and take anything from me,” Washington said. “The coaches don’t give away any positions. You have to earn everything you get. So I’m just gonna go out and earn it and then let my actions and my playing speak.”
He thinks that has gone well this spring. The defensive is finally “clicking” in his head, and it’s easier for him to make on-field adjustments.
Lott said he has seen that ability out of Washington.
“I talk about Cornelius every day, like: Look how big this guy is! He’s just real stout, real tall, muscular fast, strong,” he said. “Cornelius can be a great player. I actually think he’s one of the best players we have on defense right now, just because of his athletic ability, his strength, his speed.”
There are plenty who feel Washington -- just by his natural ability -- should be making those plays this fall for Georgia. Washington is among them.
“I feel like I’m supposed to make plays,” he said. “The type of person I am, the type of character I have, I expect that of myself. So I go out every day and bust my behind to be the best I can to make plays.”