All it takes to end a career early is an injury.
Even if the injury itself isn’t of a significant nature, the possibility remains that the player who steps in as a replacement can do such a good job that the original starter loses his place forever.
For junior defensive lineman Adolphus Washington, that possibility became all too real for the briefest of moments last season. After injuring his groin against San Diego State Sept. 7, Washington watched then-freshman Joey Bosa come in and claim the starting defensive end position, opposite then-sophomore Noah Spence.
But a late season switch saw Washington take up a position on the interior of the line, something that could take a career that was once hanging by a thread and turn it into something completely different.
Now with Washington “inside for good,” he said he has been improving this offseason with the different style of play on the inside.
“I’ve been doing real good with it this spring,” Washington said Thursday. “Especially going up against guys like (redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman) Pat Elflein and (redshirt-junior offensive lineman) Tommy Brown. If I can do it against them, I know I can do it against pretty much anybody.”
New defensive line coach Larry Johnson said Washington has the right skill set to be successful as an interior lineman.
“You always want a three-tackler, a guy that’s going to get a lot of one-on-ones and have an ability to rush the passer,” Johnson said Thursday. “He’s 285, 290 and that’s big enough to play inside. So you have to take a skilled guy who’s rushed on the edge and play inside and play as a guard position, it’s going to give you a different edge on the inside. That’s what I’m excited about. He’s got great hips, he can rush the passer, so there should be some great things coming from him.”
But it’s not just the skill set Washington brings that has Johnson raving, it’s also the drive Washington shows on the practice field.
“He’s worked really hard,” Johnson said. “He’s had a really good … spring ball. He really has. We moved him inside because of the pass rush ability, he’s playing the run real nice and then he’s doing a great job for us.”
Last season, in limited time, Washington recorded 36 tackles, to go along with four tackles for a loss and two sacks.
Even though he played on the interior later in the year after Bosa became established as the defensive end starter, Washington said he was uneasy when practice first started, but that things have improved.
“At first I was kind of nervous and scared about it. But now that I got a hold of it, it’s whatever. I am just going to go out there and play,” Washington said.
He added that sometimes having to face multiple blockers at once — compared to the one he would face at end more often than not — is what really made him nervous.
“The double teams. I used to watch … (senior defensive lineman) Michael Bennett used to tell me about them and he used to be like ‘You just have to get your pads low and fly off the ball,’” Washington said. “So I am like, ‘I can do that’ if that’s all it takes. I can just do that.”
Johnson said facing the double teams won’t be a problem for Washington, as long as he pays attention and learns from his coaches.
“Talk technique to him. Show him how to fit the double teams, and he’s doing a great job for us so far in spring ball, doing that and as he does it, confidence will come in the run game,” Johnson said. “I’ve been really excited for all these guys, Adolphus has done a really good job for us.”
Washington is likely set to have his second chance to start on the interior of the line for the Buckeyes — after starting the 2014 Discover Orange Bowl against Clemson — when OSU opens its season Aug. 30 against Navy.
Kickoff is scheduled for noon at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.