ATHENS -- Cornelius Washington looks the part. When he walks through the locker room, even his Georgia football teammates stare at his physique. His head coach, Mark Richt, jokes that “he’s a guy you want to get off the bus first.”
So what’s the hold-up?
Why isn’t the junior on anybody’s preseason all-SEC lists? Never mind that, why hasn’t he even secured a starting spot for Georgia?
It’s not athletic ability. His high school team used him as a receiver.
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It’s not a lack of confidence. Washington definitely has that.
And it’s not fierceness. Earlier this month, Georgia cornerback Brandon Boykin was talking about the team’s leaders being a fun-loving group when he added, “There’s a couple people on the team that people are scared of.”
Boykin was asked who might that be.
“Cornelius,” he answered. “They don’t say stuff to Cornelius. Cornelius doesn’t play.”
He stands 6-foot-4 and is listed at 269 pounds. His hands surround and envelop anyone who shakes them. He was so big entering 10th grade that Richt offered him a scholarship, one of the earliest times Georgia has done that.
“He’s a physical specimen.” Georgia inside linebacker Christian Robinson said.
“He’s a guy that he’s got the measurables you look for. He’s got the physical attributes,” said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, who coached in the NFL for 11 years and has seen his share of big, athletic bodies.
The question, then, is when will all that size and talent turn into results?
This year, vows Washington.
“I pass the look test,” he acknowledged. “But hard work -- I’ve worked hard, and Coach Grantham teaches us. We know a lot, we have the knowledge of more than just my side of things. I have the knowledge of more of the defense. I’m seeing the bigger picture.”
Washington’s role is a bit different this year. He played strongside linebacker last year, but he is now at weakside linebacker, which was vacated when Justin Houston left for the NFL.
Houston had 10 sacks out of that spot last year. Washington isn’t diminishing expectations, even while he still needs to beat out freshman Ray Drew for the starting role.
“I think my chances are real good to have the same kind of stats (as Houston),” Washington said. “I’m happy and proud that coach put me in a position like that to make plays, and I’m happy that he had the trust in me that I could go out and do it. It just gives me extra motivation to go out and work a lot harder.”
He also said he will “most definitely” have more hits on the quarterback this season.
“I didn’t have much last year,” he said, laughing. “So anything will be a step up.”
For the record, Washington was credited with six quarterback pressures last year and one sack. That was way down from his freshman season, when he had 13 pressures and four sacks.
But Washington was sharing time with then-senior Darryl Gamble, who was first on the depth chart. Washington was the team’s starter in the nickel package, in a pass-rush role.
It also bears noting that the player Washington couldn’t beat out, Gamble, just recorded eight tackles in an NFL exhibition game for the San Diego Chargers.
Still, when Drew committed, the coaches didn’t put him at defensive end or have him compete with Jarvis Jones at strongside linebacker. They put him at Washington’s spot.
Never mind that, the veteran said.
“I’m confident,” Washington said. “Ray, he’s a good kid, he’s a great player. But he has a ways to go, he has some learning to do -- and he’s gonna get there. We’re teaching him. I feel like he’s gonna be real good and he’s probably gonna get a chance to play for us this year. But ...”
Washington then literally cleared his throat.
“I know what I’m doing,” he said.