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Durkin: Rookie Spotlight – Cornelius Washington

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Cornelius Washington. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

Cornelius Washington. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)

Dan Durkin Dan Durkin
Dan Durkin joined The Score's columnist community after finishing...
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By Dan Durkin-

(CBS) In a passing league, a defense can never have too many pass rushers. The Bears are no exception to this adage, just look at the 2012 draft. Even with more pressing needs at other positions and Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije, and Corey Wootton already in the fold, Phil Emery used his first selection as general manager on defensive end Shea McClellin.

In 2013, the landscape of the defensive end position changed a bit. Peppers is entering his 12th season and will consume a large portion of the team’s cap over the next three seasons, Idonije’s in Detroit, Wootton’s in a contract year, and McClellin’s 2012 campaign was more disappointing than impressive. Thus, Emery rolled the dice on Georgia defensive end Cornelius Washington in the 6th round.

Washington was recruited to Georgia as a 4-3 defensive end, but ended up playing in both an even (4-3) and odd (3-4) front. He primarily logged snaps at defensive end in both schemes, but displayed some versatility, seeing time at both rush backer and tackle. Washington will be locked in as a base left defensive end with the Bears.

After reviewing several of Washington’s game tapes and his performance at the Senior Bowl, here’s my summary of what impressed me, what didn’t impress me, areas for improvement, and what his prospects are for the 2013 season.

Positive Impressions

Explosiveness. Washington is a dynamic athlete with an explosive first step. He’s able to get to top speed in a matter of a few steps, which puts blockers on their heels, and forces them to accelerate their kick slide. Washington was most successful in collapsing the pocket when he took an outside release and then shortened his pass rush angle with his second step.

Violent hands. While his hand placement technique needs some refinement, Washington generates noticeable power with his punch. The helmets and pads of his blocking assignments were frequently knocked back on impact, bending their back, and giving Washington a leverage advantage.

Negative Impressions

Lack of counter moves. Washington is primarily a bull-rusher, showing little-to-no counter moves once engaged. Washington was in position to make more plays than he did simply because he didn’t have a finishing move. In the NFL, speed off the edge is critical, but technique is more important. Savvy offensive tackles anchor to cut off the inside rush lanes and let speed rushers run themselves out of plays, so Washington needs to work on simple swims and rips.

Plays upright out of his stance. Washington has a tendency to stand straight up out of his stance, instead of dipping his inside shoulder. Washington needs to learn to play with more bend to help keep his pads low when firing off the snap. Combining his explosiveness with a lower center of gravity will make him a harder target to block, and allow him to play with even more torque and force when he engages.

Areas for Improvement

Awareness. Washington’s engagements looked identical from play to play – run or pass – so he must improve at reading the setups of his blockers. When blockers fire out at him, he needs to read run and use his arm length to stack and shed. When he sees a lineman sink his hips in a pass pro set, he needs to have a better plan of attack and use his foot speed to set blockers up.

Tackling form. Washington has a tendency to push ball carriers down to the ground instead of wrapping them up. Granted, his brute strength is typically enough to knock players off balance, but in the NFL, you must secure every tackle. In a division with Adrian Peterson, poor form on a tackle attempt can be the difference between a first down and a touchdown.

Prospects for 2013

Washington was a value pick in the 6th round, but why did he slide so far? The primary reason is his production didn’t match his measurables. Georgia’s defense had plenty of elite talent – particularly along their front seven – so Washington rarely saw double teams or chips. Washington was also a tweener prospect, but the Bears will lock him in as a base end with one job: get to the quarterback.

In 2012, the Bears kept five defensive ends on their initial 53-man roster, so with the top three defensive ends set, Washington has an opportunity this preseason to make a name for himself and secure a roster spot.

Even before Turk McBride’s Achilles’ tear, I mentioned Washington as a prospect to keep an eye on. Physically, he’s as gifted as a player can be. He’s the type of guy that teams want to get off the bus first, as he’s built like a cyborg.

But is he more of an athlete than a football player?

Questions about the Bears rookie class? Tweet Dan.

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