Washington had played only wide receiver prior to arriving at LSU last summer to play tight end. He had no clue how to block like the Tigers expect from players at his position -- particularly when the opponent is a chiseled block of granite like the 6-foot-6, 240-pound Hunter.
And it was soon obvious how ill-prepared Washington was for that task.
“I lined up and as soon as I opened up my hips, I got run over,” Washington recalled, shaking his head. “That day, I told myself, ‘Never again. Never again.’
“He got to the quarterback, my coaches chewed me out and I said, ‘Never again.’”
To his credit, Washington said he never let Hunter embarrass him like that again. But he views the considerable progress that he had to make as a blocker as one of the leading reasons that he redshirted in 2014.
“The biggest thing coming in last year was trying to block Danielle Hunter and [Jermauria] Rasco. Oh boy, it was tough and I took my beatings,” Washington said. “But looking back on it, I’m glad that’s what I chose to do: redshirt, and coming out this spring, I could block a little better and hold my own with a big boy.”
That will likely be the biggest factor in whether Washington gets to do what he does best -- catch passes -- this season. By now, it’s no secret that becoming at least a serviceable blocker determines which tight ends make it onto the field in LSU’s run-heavy offense.
It’s why a dominant blocker such as Dillon Gordon plays more than everyone else, despite not catching a single pass last season and hauling in just six in 2013.
His blocking ability is obviously Gordon’s meal ticket, but even he hopes to see his position become a bigger factor in the passing game.
“From the past years, I’ve kind of been labeled as a blocking tight end,” Gordon said. “Going forward to my future toward the NFL, I kind of want a well-rounded game.”
But Gordon could chuckle and muster only a “kind of” when asked whether he was optimistic that the tight end’s role would change substantially this fall. This has been a talking point during spring practice over each of the last few years, particularly since Cam Cameron -- whose scheme utilized tight ends extensively in the NFL -- became LSU’s offensive coordinator prior to the 2013 season. But the tight ends remain difficult to find on the stat sheet.
In two seasons under Cameron, LSU has completed 24 passes for 340 yards and a touchdown to its tight ends. The Tigers haven’t had a tight end catch more than seven passes in a season since Deangelo Peterson in 2011 (18 for 179 yards) and haven’t had a tight end play a vital role in the passing game since Richard Dickson (90 career catches for 952 yards and 10 TDs) between 2006 and 2009.
“I can never really know [what will happen] until the season comes because it’s always that spring and all of us have like 30-plus catches,” Gordon said. “We’ve just got to wait until the season to see.”
The encouraging sign for LSU’s tight ends is that they are perfectly capable of contributing as receivers should Cameron and LSU’s quarterbacks look their way.
Tigers coach Les Miles singled out Washington and Gordon after last Saturday’s scrimmage and said that junior DeSean Smith figures “to be very significantly a key player in the fall.” Receiver John Diarse added this week that junior Colin Jeter “is really starting to come around. He’s starting to pick up some things and really starting to show us that, hey, he can do it” after appearing in 11 games as a reserve last fall.
Serving as feisty blockers always will be the tight ends’ main objective, though, and as long as the group follows Gordon’s lead in that department, they’ll be just fine.
“Since I’m the oldest and I’ve been here the longest and I have the most game experience, I just try to be the one to let them know and teach them the physicality that goes with it,” said Gordon, who has started 25 games over the last two seasons. “And just try to teach them the right things to do on the field.”