Adolphus Washington came to Ohio State with high expectations after being rated as a five-star recruit, as well as a Parade Magazine All-American. So far the career of Washington in Columbus has been up-and-down, but luckily for Buckeye fans it feels like he is saving his best for his senior season.
During his freshman season for the Buckeyes, Washington was able to find his way into 10 games, which showed the staff knew what kind of talent they had on their hands. The biggest play of Washington's freshman year came early in The Game when he breezed by Taylor Lewan for the sack/fumble on Devin Gardner. Washington finished his freshman year with three sacks, which ranked third on the defense. With such strong play during his limited time on the field, it felt like Washington would be next in the great line of Ohio State defensive linemen.
The hype for Washington wasn't quite realized during his sophomore season due to a groin strain, which helped freshman Joey Bosa to burst onto the scene for the Buckeyes. Washington missed a couple games early in the year due to the injury and after he returned Washington wasn't able to regain his job from Bosa. With Noah Spence at the other defensive end position, Washington was forced to bounce around the line a little bit and wasn't able to build much momentum in his play. During five starts in 12 games for the Buckeyes, Washington was only able to record two sacks and four tackles-for-loss.
Following the 2013 season there was a big question on what to do with Washington. Ohio State saw a star being born with how Joey Bosa dominated as a true freshman, but also realized they had a tremendous athlete at their disposal in Washington, who needed to be out on the field. During the offseason came a switch to the interior of the defensive line for Washington. While the position change couldn't be easy for Washington, who spent his first two years at defensive end, he did have the luxury of learning the ropes from incoming defensive line coach Larry Johnson.
Washington came out of the gates for his junior season with a sack and six tackles against Navy, and exhibited strong play in the 14 games he started for the Buckeyes. There was a switch in the middle of the season that saw Washington and Michael Bennett flip positions to try and snap Bennett out of his early season funk. The switch worked, with Bennett playing out of his mind to close out the year on the way to a national title for the Buckeyes. But Bennett couldn't have created the havoc he did during the second half of the year if it wasn't for Washington occupying multiple blockers to free up Bennett.
Now Washington will move into the position that Bennett excelled at late last year, and will hope to end his Ohio State career with as much success as Bennett had last year. Despite the loss of Michael Bennett, and with Bosa missing time during the start of the season, Washington doesn't seem concerned. At Big Ten Media Days on Thursday, Washington said "I think we can as productive [as last year], maybe even more, with me moving back to three technique, and with Tommy Schutt coming in to play nose tackle, we'll absolutely be just as productive, I have no doubt about that, and I have all the confidence in the world in him."
At his new/old position at the three, Washington said he plans to "do everything he can" for the Silver Bullets. He admits that he "cares" about his stats, which could jump up now that he's not at nose tackle anymore, but emphasized that any statistical considerations come second to getting back to the national championship, a theme echoed by the other Buckeyes. Opposing offenses will have to pick their poison this year, because if they give Washington to much attention then that will free up Joey Bosa to do what he does best. If offenses send multiple blockers Bosa's way it will free up Washington, or perhaps another one of Ohio State's talented young players (Washington was quick to praise Sam Hubbard, for example, as somebody who has grown the most since he entered the program).
Perhaps Washington's biggest contributions to the team this season could come off the field, rather than on the field, as the typically more quiet player assumes a more vocal leadership role on the squad, particularly in a unit that is overflowing with highly regarded, but also more unproven talent. At Media Days, Washington said that he thinks he needs to be a lot more vocal, but thinks that he's done a good job of talking more, and expressing feelings and instructions to the other players. "They always say you can lead by example, but it's best to be heard too. You can show somebody, but you need to be able to tell them how to do things too."
Coming into this year, Washington is one of the top-rated defensive tackle prospects heading into the 2016 NFL Draft and it'll be exciting to see just how high Washington's draft stock can soar with a strong senior campaign. Coming back to a familiar place position, if Washington is healthy and steps more into that leadership role, the Buckeyes should be very solid along the line, even if others have to miss time.