In high school and during a breakout freshman season at Ohio State, Adolphus Washington became known as a speed-rushing defensive end. So it’s only natural that he’ll move to the interior after an injury-plagued sophomore season gave way to the emergence of Joey Bosa.
But Washington is not upset with the change. There was nervousness at first, which gave way to comfort. As spring practice concludes Saturday, he’s content with having “defensive tackle” next to his name.
“Now that I’ve got the whole of it, it’s whatever,” Washington said. “I’m just going to go out there and play.”
The one worry is double teams. It’s something Washington didn’t experience when he was coming off the edge. Fellow interior lineman Michael Bennett has given some lessons on how to deal with the wall of resistance. Bennett instructed Washington to get low and fire off the ball. Simple as that.
It takes grit to move inside where interaction with hulking offensive linemen is a regular occurrence. A cat and mouse game can ensue, with the victor needing to strike first. But when one is in the three technique staring at a double team, it presents a fresh set of challenges.
“I’ve been doing really good with it this spring, especially going against guys like Pat Elflein and Antonio Underwood,” Washington said. “If I can do it against them, I know I can do it pretty much against anybody.”
New defensive line coach Larry Johnson agrees with Washington’s self-assessment. The skill set, at a nimble 6-foot-4, 288 pounds, is one that can create havoc for opposing lines.
“That’s big enough to play inside,” Johnson said. “It’s going to give you a different edge on the inside. That’s why I’m excited about him.”
Washington’s already displayed a level of disruption. He missed two games last season and spent time at two different positions. Still, he was able to record 36 tackles, four tackles for loss and two sacks at less than full health.
“He’s got great hips and can rush the passer. So there should be some great things coming from him.”– Larry Johnson
Replicating those stats becomes paramount for Ohio State’s reconfigured defensive line. The starters and accompanying depth form the strongest unit on the team. In a season when the offense is reloading, the defense’s play becomes more pronounced. A position change could make Washington stick out like a highlighter between No. 2 pencils. But teammates and coaches haven’t noticed a steep learning curve.
It might have something to do with Washington’s well-conditioned body and never-quit attitude. Playing at 100 percent, he’s flashed the dynamic skills that fans fell in love with two years ago. The double teams that presented caution have been pushed aside with brute strength. Bennett’s witnessed a player who’s naturally it into the position. There’s no square peg and round hole.
“Guys have really adapted and changed,” Bennett said. “We’re getting after the ball, we’re running to the ball-carrier. I’m really excited for where we’re going to be. We’re a lot better than we were last spring.”
And with such talent, opponents must decide which linemen they want to limit. The answer isn’t all of them, leaving open the possibility for Washington, Bennett, Bosa or Noah Spence to face little resistance en route to the backfield.
“We’re trying to create some havoc in the backfield,” junior defensive lineman Tommy Schutt said.
The rise in numbers and adequate depth has Johnson eager to see it translate in the fall.
“I’ve been really excited for all these guys,” he said. “Adolphus has done a really good job for us. He’s worked really hard. He really has. We moved him inside because of the pass rush ability. He’s playing the run real nice.”
The same speed that made Washington a gifted edge rusher is contributing to his transition as a tackle. He’s proven his versatility can be an asset for Ohio State. The ensuing confidence caused a spike in Washington’s production. Johnson is the proud pupil with confirmation that the switch is paying off.
“He’s got great hips and can rush the passer,” Johnson said. “So there should be some great things coming from him.”
Said Washington: “We want to be the best D-line in the country, so we’re going to do what he says. If playing fast is what he wants, then that’s what we’re going to do.”