Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Guarded Optimism

Todd Washington’s ability to play three positions – including both guard spots – has him hopeful for more playing time in 2000

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Center/guard Todd Washington has been kept very busy this preseason

Todd Washington is tired.

He didn't say so, not once during a 20-minute question-and-answer session, but that's our diagnosis anyway. Our prescription: Less rest.

Huh?

Okay, to clarify, we don't get the impression that Washington is physically tired, although with three weeks of training camp two-a-days just completed, we couldn't blame him if he was. No, Washingon, we have to believe, is tired of working ceaselessly during the week then spending his Sunday on the sideline. This is a man that would like a little less time off.

Though Washington was selected midway through the draft in 1998 (late fourth round), he made the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' roster as a rookie and held on to his spot last season. However, during that time he has played in exactly six regular season games and seen virtually no time on the offensive line. Making the team is, of course, every player's target during the preseason, but Washington would like to take it one step further, or however many steps it takes to get from the sideline to the line of scrimmage.

"That's been one of my goals," said Washington. "The past two years I've made the roster, but I really wasn't comfortable with the way I've been playing. I wasn't satisfied with the way I've been competing.

"This year, it's a lot more fun for me. I'm enjoying being out there working hard, and things are coming a little bit easier for me now. I'm enjoying it. Hopefully, that will roll over into the season, and the coaches will be comfortable enough for me to be in the game for a couple of series, and get some reps against good football games and see what I can do."

First they have to decide where he's going to do it. Washington made the team as a rookie mostly due to his potential, which was not enough to keep him on the 45-man active list most Sundays. This season, Washington is banking on his versatility. The Buccaneer coaching staff wants Washington to be proficient at all three interior line spots – center, right guard and left guard – and by all accounts he is proving that he can be that player. In addition to positive feedback for his work in camp, Washington was also praised for his play against the Washington Redskins in the August 4 preseason opener.

"It's kind of hard to play all three positions at one time, but I've been doing it since I've been playing the game," he said. "The plays are the same, but from a mental standpoint, you have to be able to know the difference between three positions, and you have to know the same calls and you have to be on top of it. It's very rare to have a lineman that can play that many positions."

Rare and valuable, but Washington doesn't want to be treated like a precious commodity. Put him in the action, anywhere you want. "I've been doing it so long, all three are natural to me," he said. "I've been doing it a little bit longer at guard, but I'm to a point now that they could put me anywhere out there and I'd feel comfortable."

If he had his choice of the three positions? "I'd be center," he revealed, though the preference didn't seem overwhelming. "It puts a lot more on me, as far as making the calls for the offensive line, and it's more of a responsibility thing. You have to be a little bit more responsible to make sure everybody's on the right page."

Washington meshed very well with his inside linemates against the Redskins, as the trio of him, fellow super-sub Kevin Dogins and promising rookie guard Cosey Coleman were all given high grades for their work. Those three were in, in fact, when the Bucs put together their first touchdown drive.

"Kevin and I played together for the last two years, playing both center and guard, because he also plays both," said Washington. "We just know how each other works. There might be times out there when we don't really need to make a lot of communication because we know what's going on. Having Cosey in there, that's raw talent. It just seems like we click together out there, and it's a good feeling to know that you can rely on those three inside guys at any time of the game to come out there and perform well."

That certainly is a big advantage for the Buccaneers, but it begs the question, are those three also in competition for jobs? The Bucs have not revealed how many offensive linemen they plan to keep, or at what specific line positions they'll run deep, so it remains somewhat of a mystery. Tampa Bay had a place for both Dogins and Washington in 1998 and 1999, but Coleman has now been added to the mix.

Washington can only go on the positive feedback he has received and his own evaluation of his progress. "I think I'm doing okay," he said. "There are some things that I can do better, from a technique standpoint, and I could be a little bit sharper on my notification of defenses. I could make my calls a little quicker, but so far, I feel alright."

That is, from most accounts, more modesty than is necessary from Washington this summer. Not many players on the team are charged with knowing the requirements of three different positions. Washington is close to mastering his three jobs, though the mind game will always be the toughest part of the challenge.

"Mentally, it's a big difference (between the three positions)," he said. "Physically, you're ready to take on any defensive lineman in the league. Mentally, you have to know how to take them on and make sure you make the right calls in a pressure situation. There might be a time when I'm in a game, and they call a play that we only practiced once, and I didn't get that rep. From a mental point of view, you have to be on top of everything."

And you have to do so without getting a lot of first-team snaps in practice. Pretty soon, he'll be emulating opposing offenses for the scout team, as long as he remains a non-starter. That's another adjustment the 324-pounder has had to make since coming to Tampa from Virginia Tech, where the Hokies were just climbing into national prominence during his tenure.

"You have to realize that in college, you have a small handful of marquee players that makes your offense or your defense run" said Washington. "When you get here, everybody's that type of athlete. So you have to take your game up to a higher level."

That's exactly what Washington is doing, and that continued development may keep him around for several more years in the new hometown to which he has grown very accustomed. Washington, who originally hails from Melfa, Virginia, has taken well to Tampa, a city he describes as a place where you can easily manipulate the speed of your life. "It can be a fast pace as a city, it can be in-between, or you can slow it down if you want," he said. "That's the beauty of it.

"It's always been slow where I'm from, so every once in a while I like to speed things up."

On Sundays, perhaps?

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