One player I think everyone was watching today was second year wide receiver James Washington. Not only did he have a bit of a disappointing first season, but his flashes in the second half of the season only drove the intrigue up the wall. Add that to a new, trimmer frame that added more burst and long speed to Washington’s arsenal and you have a train created.
Washington did not disappoint. And his new frame was already on display and allowed him to be much more like the deep threat he was in college. Vernon Hargreaves learnt that much very, very quickly as soon as the Steelers offense came out onto the field.
Washington got off to a hot start on a route I have seen him run a few times when I was at camp, a copper route (corner-post). The corner part of this stem is really solid, pads over knees and he is selling that out breaking route fully. Once the CB has his weight and hips shifted towards the sideline, Washington has won inside leverage and makes an explosive cut inside. It looks smooth and simple because his feet are quick, you love to see that.
Washington really should have had a touchdown here, but he does a great job to slow down as he is tracking this ball and high point the ball to hold onto this thing through contact. This is what James Washington looked like at Oklahoma State.
This is a pretty simple job by Washington to get open here. When you have a cornerback giving you the inside track and opening his hips up because he is playing hard outside, just fight his hands off you, fly up field, and cut in to either beat him or find the soft spot in zone. In this case, the Buccaneers are running Cover 3 and Washington finds the open zone behind the linebackers. The release and ability to free flow allowed this play to happen though. It all starts at the line of scrimmage.
A point of contention that Washington really seems to have worked on this year is his releases. This release is a simple jab step inside, a cut to stem back outside, and a great job to bat down the corner’s hands to stick this back inside. Dobbs obviously never gets the chance to get this to Washington, but Washington set himself up to win the inside track every single time.
This is a really good example of two traits — body control and field awareness. In order to even truly take body control into consideration, Washington has to be aware that he is near the sideline and will have to toe tap this down. Now, it wasn’t a completion, but this is as crisp of a jumping catch and toe tap that you will get. The throw was just leading him a bit too far out. Great awareness and footwork, nonetheless.
This is a good pick play design by Randy Fichtner. Washington just shuffles his feet in place which causes the corner to hesitate. That, plus the pick design, allows Washington to just hit the burst and get open on this drag route. Good catch away from his body and some nice speed in the open field before going out of bounds. Washington’s little shuffle step is so subtle, but so effective and important as to why he got open here.
As good as this throw is by Mason Rudolph, Washington opens this back shoulder throw with his release. A double jump release to get the DB to hesitate and pause his footwork. While the CB is technically mirroring, he is always a second behind Washington because of that subtle release. The hop outside is completing his transition to winning outside leverage and opening this back shoulder throw all the way. It’s a great release and that is why he is able to get this touchdown. Good back shoulder adjustment and tap to get it in bounds as well.
It is only one preseason game, but this appears to be a much more nuanced and athletic version of James Washington. Now, let’s hope it translates into the regular season, because it could be real big.