ATHENS, Ga. — Ask Cornelius Washington about his spring working at defensive end and the senior can’t help but get excited about what he’s seen from the Georgia defense as a whole.
“I’ve had some pretty good practices and I’ve shown some potential at this new position, but, man, the defense overall has been kicking behind,” the former Burke County star said. “And that’s what we’re used to, we’re used to kicking butt. We’re 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.”
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.
“That gives us the flexibility to put the next best guy in the game,” he said.
After Saturday’s first spring scrimmage, the fifth-year senior said he didn’t play a snap at outside linebacker on the day.
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 pass rush on the inside in his 3-4 scheme but says they can still play outside linebacker.
“Athletically, I’ve got a very, very large advantage,” Washington said.
“Most guards aren’t going to be able to block guys kind of similar to the attributes that we have across the D-line. It’s almost like stealing sometimes to be honest with you.”
Washington says he’s still carrying 270 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame, but he looks more muscular this spring.
“This off-season workouts, he’s working on his flexibility and you can see the difference,” inside linebacker Christian Robinson said. “He’s 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’m looking forward to seeing him play.”
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.
“One guy in particular that’s just been showing up every day in my opinion is Cornelius Washington,” Richt said.
“Just 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.”
Said Washington: “Previous years I’ve focused mainly on stopping the run and then other years it was pass rusher. This is my last year and I’m just trying to put it all together. I’m just trying to be that complete player.
“I’ve said a couple of times I want to be the total package, be that every down guy and that’s truly what I’m trying to do.”
Washington said he thought “very heavily” 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: former Westside standout Sanders Commings, wide receiver Branden Smith, All-American safety Bacarri Rambo and star linebacker Alec Ogletree.
“I couldn’t leave these guys, I couldn’t go somewhere and feel like I had unfinished business here at UGA,” Washington said.