COLUMBUS, Ohio -- His speed made him appealing as an outside pass rusher. His size made him an option on the inside. A willingness to play either role provided no shortage of flexibility.
That same versatility, though, also left Adolphus Washington without a spot he could truly claim as his own in his first two seasons at Ohio State.
Coaches surely could keep shuffling the 6-foot-4, 288-pound Washington around the defensive line to plug any hole that popped up, capitalizing on Washington’s unique ability to effectively play anywhere on the line.
Instead, they carved out a place the junior can finally call home, a position where he can focus his energy this spring, where he can unleash his immense potential and turn it into the kind of production that has been anticipated since the moment he arrived on campus.
“I’m inside for good,” Washington said. “I think it will definitely help out now that I’m playing just one position.”
Washington expressed a few concerns initially about staking himself to just one spot at the three-technique for the Buckeyes, worrying briefly about the number of double-teams he would face on the interior as opposed to firing off the edge at defensive end.
But those fears quickly were replaced by surging confidence, both a product of another tear through spring practice, splitting those blocking schemes that caused his concern, and the validation that he can still be a disruptive force against the pass in the role new defensive line coach Larry Johnson has tabbed for him.
Washington has already proven capable of inflicting damage on opposing quarterbacks without the benefit of learning and fine-tuning his craft at one position, but the glimpses have largely been fleeting so far. He finished last season with 36 tackles and four tackles for loss, but he tallied only two sacks, and an early injury opened the door for Joey Bosa to replace him in the starting lineup at end -- a gig Washington never got back.
In some ways, that left Washington a bit adrift after leaving spring practice a year ago looking like the player with the highest ceiling on Ohio State’s deep, talented defensive front. But Johnson has brought him in from the cold, identifying all the tools that made Washington such a tantalizing prospect and figuring out the best way to put them to work instead of spreading them around.
“I think, because of his ability to rush the passer, you always want a three-technique who is going to get a lot of one-on-ones, a guy who has the ability to rush the passer,” Johnson said. “He’s 285, 290 [pounds], and that’s big enough to play inside. So you take a skilled guy who has rushed on the edge and then bring him to the inside against a guy at the guard position, it gives you a different edge on the inside.
“That’s why I’m excited about him. He’s got great hips and can rush the passer, so there should be some great things coming from him.”
The Buckeyes have had that expectation for Washington, and even without as much individual production as planned last season, there’s been no reason to lower their hopes.
And now that Washington has gotten over some early fears about settling down, the commitment between him and Ohio State might be trouble for the guys trying to block him.
“Honestly, the double-teams [were a concern], because I used to watch and Michael Bennett used to tell me about them, and you’ve just got to get your pads lower, you’ve got to fire off the ball,” Washington said. “So, I was like, 'Well, I can do that.' If that’s all it takes, I can do that.
“At first I was kind of nervous or scared about [the position], but now I’ve got a hold of it.”
This time, he might actually be able to hang around and get comfortable with it.