Washington continuing to adapt to cornerback, has strong spring

Redshirt sophomore cornerback Keith Washington recorded several tackles in Michigan's spring game.

Redshirt sophomore cornerback Keith Washington recorded several tackles in Michigan's spring game. Buy this photo
Amelia Cacchione/Daily

 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 9:27pm

Keith Washington has quite the spring planned out.

The redshirt sophomore cornerback is traveling with the Michigan football team to Italy, where the Wolverines will spend one week in Rome. Then he’ll fly back to Detroit, where he’ll have only one day before hopping on another international flight — this time to Buenos Aires, the capital of Argentina and the destination of his nearly month-long study abroad trip.

Washington will be the only Michigan player heading to Argentina, and he just met the program’s other students last week. He says he’s good at Spanish, though he’s still working on the “little things.”

So his trip will be an adventure of sorts for him, with the unfamiliarity and change in culture.

And in a way, it’s that spirit — the willingness to take on the unknown — that led him to Ann Arbor in the first place.

Washington starred for Prattville High School in Alabama as a dual-threat quarterback. As a recruit, though, he was classified as an athlete — a piece of clay for a coaching staff to mold. Michigan’s coaching staff liked him enough to offer a scholarship. They told him they wanted him at cornerback, a position that he was completely unfamiliar with.

Washington’s response? “I said I was fine with that.”

He arrived in Ann Arbor as a skinny freshman, green to both his position and the rigors of college football. That first year — perhaps predictably — was a struggle, Washington admits, calling it a “learning curve.”

“I had no idea about certain techniques to use and certain tips and tricks to do at corner,” Washington said Tuesday. “If you just continue working at it over time, I really feel like anybody can do it, as long as you just keep working and putting your effort into it, it’ll all fall into place.”

He spent the first couple years catching up to speed and working to adjust to the position, part of which came from observing two players in front of him on the depth chart: former cornerbacks Jourdan Lewis and Channing Stribling.

Eye control, footwork, route patterns: those were all nuances of Washington’s new position that he had to learn. And he had to do it all under the eye of cornerbacks coach Mike Zordich — a coach who admitted he doesn’t make things easier or slower for younger players.

It was slightly more difficult than he initially expected, but Washington stuck to the plan. Now, he’s beginning to see the fruits of his labor pay off. Zordich deemed his pupil’s performance in last Saturday’s spring game the best practice Washington has had all spring, and it showed.

Matched up mostly against Donovan Peoples-Jones, Washington more than held his own against the highly-touted freshman receiver, who recorded just two catches for seven yards. And it wasn’t just pass coverage in which Washington excelled — he made a couple tackles coming up to defend the run, as well.

Michigan’s secondary is wide open after graduating both of last year’s starting cornerbacks in Lewis and Stribling. There are certainly other names at cornerback that received more attention this spring, but all will receive a fair shot at the open spots.

That may bode well for Michigan’s converted quarterback, who is neither new to his position nor (as) skinny anymore. Washington said Tuesday that he’s up to 180 pounds and hopes to be in the 190-195 range by the fall. He says he’s playing at the best level that he can right now. His coach has been equally impressed.

So it may be fair to say — even before his travels to Rome and Buenos Aires — that Keith Washington has already had one hell of a spring.

“Keith is a competitor — that’s one thing I like about Keith,” Zordich said. “He works his tail off. Remember, he played quarterback in high school. We brought him over and said, ‘Hey, we’re going to make you a cornerback in a system that plays press-man (coverage) 90 percent of the time,’ so it’s not an easy thing to do. And it’s a tough technique to learn, and that’s what he’s trying to do.

“I think he’s doing it very well. I thought he had a heck of a game Saturday. Played really well, was very aggressive, had some nice tackles. He’s come along really well.”