ATHENS, Ga. -- Cornelius Washington lowered his head and sighed when asked Thursday how he is handling the physical demands of his new responsibilities at defensive end.
“It’s kind of on and off. I have days where I do pretty well at it and then I have days where I don’t,” Washington said. “Just trying to be completely honest with you, everything’s not going to come easy to me despite what people may think. I work hard. I have to work hard just like everybody else. I just go out and do the best I can.”
But don’t let Washington’s modesty fool you. His Georgia teammates and coaches recognize that the rising senior has more to learn in juggling his jobs as a hybrid defensive end and outside linebacker, but they’re excited about his potential in that role.
“Cornelius, once he feels comfortable with something, he’s a monster,” nose guard John Jenkins said. “He’s getting it, but he just doesn’t realize it yet.”
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham shifted Washington and rising sophomore Ray Drew into the hybrid role this spring in hopes of bolstering the Bulldogs’ pass rush at end. Last year’s defensive end trio, Abry Jones, DeAngelo Tyson and Garrison Smith, combined for 5.5 sacks with four coming from Jones alone.
Washington was second on the team with five sacks, and his combination of speed off the edge and considerable 268-pound size made him an obvious choice.
“Coach Grantham brought it to me: ‘It’s the spring. It’s time for you to try new things and we’re kind of getting slack in a few areas so we need some guys to step up in different places,’ ” Washington said. “Me being a leader and just showing the other guys to just do what you can to help the team win, be versatile and do what coaches ask you to do. It’s different. It’s taking some getting used to, but everything’s going to be a transition and I’m working hard at it.”
Georgia lost reserve Derrick Lott last week as the rising junior announced plans to transfer, but Grantham said that does not change how he intends to utilize Washington and Drew in the two positions. Matchups will continue to dictate where Grantham places the two players.
Of Washington, he said “we’ll mix and match and we’ll play him in the situations that best fit him and us.”
Jones started 20 games over the last two seasons -- including all 14 last year -- so he is well established as one of the Bulldogs’ top defensive linemen. He will have much more company this season on the depth chart, however.
Jones estimated that he and Tyson both played two-thirds of most games last year, which often wore them down. Now with Smith, Washington and Drew in the mix and Sterling Bailey returning from injury to join them -- along with a few new freshmen -- in the preseason, the Bulldogs should have fresher legs at end during the fall.
“I think this point in time, we all realize playing defensive line it doesn’t matter who’s the starter, we’re all going to play,” Jones said. “I think we definitely figured out last year, we didn’t have as much depth as we wanted last year and we just couldn’t have the same three or four guys playing all game. We need a deeper rotation, we need more people coming in, we need fresh legs coming into the fourth quarter.”
While delivering his honest assessment of his transition to defensive end, Washington noted that he, Jenkins and Jones typically work as the first-team defensive linemen.
“It’s seeming to work out pretty well right now,” Washington said, “but we’ll see how it goes.”
Judging by his coaches’ and teammates’ evaluations of his progress, it sounds as if Washington might be faring better than he is letting on.