Just when I was ready to write Cornelius Washington off as nothing more than a workout warrior, he showed actual skill on the football field last week, something that could be a big long-term benefit for both he and the Bears.
When the Bears drafted Washington, one of their scouts referred to him as “avatar” because of his freakish athletic ability. That ability didn’t always show up on the field at Georgia and there was no sign he could play for the Bears last year. We still don’t know if he’s ever going to be a decent defensive end, but he has the look of a standout special teams player. If he continues to standout in the third phase, it will give the Bears more time to develop him as a defensive end.
Washington only had one tackle, but it was an impressive one. After the Bears’ go-ahead touchdown, Washington flew down the field faster than anyone his size should, evaded a blocker and and took whoever the hell the Jaguars return man was. On their previous kickoff, Washington was the first player down the field and blew up their return without making the tackle.
Wearing number 94, Washington looks like a much larger version of Brendon Ayanbadejo. If he ends up being nearly as good as Ayanbadejo was, he would have been a steal in the sixth round.
In 2014, the Bears can ask Washington to be a heat-seeking missile on special teams. It’s something he has the ability to excel at and fills a need. There is still the potential for more and the Bears can keep trying to tap into that potential, as long as Washington has value on special teams.
It’s hard to remember now, but Israel Idonije barely played on the Bears defense his first few seasons with the team. He was a special teams specialist, even being used as a gunner at times. By providing value there, Idonije got to work with Rod Marinelli and eventually became a solid defensive lineman. By playing special teams, Washington will get extra time with Clint Hurtt and Paul Pasqualoni. He’ll also get to study Jared Allen for the next couple of seasons.
Washington showed more than just special teams ability. He was dominant at defensive end in the fourth quarter, but it’s hard to know how much stock to put in that, since he was going against a guy who may never play in the NFL.
The second-year end out of Georgia blew Jacksonville tackle Josh Wells up for what ended up being a tackle for a loss by Tracy Robertson. Then he got pressures on a few other plays and also got a tackle for a two-yard loss.
Washington isn’t better than any of the Bears top four defensive ends and may not even be a better end than David Bass. But if he’s able to be a great special teams player, he could earn his roster spot just like Ayanbadejo was able to do for his entire career and Idonije did early in his career.
The Bears are going to keep 10 defensive linemen. Jared Allen, Willie Young, Lamarr Houston, Jeremiah Ratliff, Stephen Paea, Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson are locks. Trevor Scott and Nate Collins appear to be pretty sure bets. Their fifth defensive end hopefully won’t play much, if any, defense this year, if Washington is a special teams stud, they have to keep him over Bass.
As long as he’s on the roster, the Bears coaches can continue to work on turning him into an every down player. Even if that doesn’t work out, it appears he has a good chance to be a special teams ace, that alone would make him a worthwhile pick.