The plan at Fresno State was to bring cornerback Charles Washington along slowly following offseason core surgery, to start with some individual drills and progress to some 7-on-7 reps and, hopefully, get him into some team periods toward the end of the 15 spring practices.
Wednesday was that day, the senior going through the full practice for the first time.
“It felt good, man,” Washington said. “I had a lot of energy.”
The defensive coaching staff felt good about it as well, knowing what a difference a solid shutdown corner can make in a defense that has struggled the past two seasons with balls going over their heads, giving up 113 pass plays of 20 or more yards — 54 last season and 59 in 2013 to rank 10th of 12 and last in the Mountain West Conference.
That is the role Washington is expected to play this fall after shuttling from strong safety to nickel to corner to safety to corner last season in a secondary that has been unsettled the past three years even while winning back-to-back conference championships and last season the Western Division.
“We are a completely different defense with Charles on the field,” defensive backs coach Marcus Woodson said. “Just his presence, his ability, and being able to see him go out there and be able to go full-speed through the whole practice was exciting. I just look forward to getting him fully healthy.
“It’s a big-time difference. He’s a shutdown corner and I can see his comfort level at the position really starting to come into play. Last year, he’d be at corner for three weeks, then move back to safety, and it kind of stalled him as far as his progression at both positions. Now that he’s able to focus just on corner, that’s really helping him. He does the things that you can’t coach.”
In a 7 on 7, Washington jumped an inside route by KeeSean Johnson, beating the redshirt freshman receiver to the football and making an interception. And the rest of Washington’s first full day of practice was just as solid, with no ill effects from the surgery.
“We weren’t real fair to him last year, going back and forth, but unfortunately that was the position we were in,” coach Tim DeRuyter said. “To have him be a full-time corner is really going to help his game and having gone through last season, whether we picked safety or corner, he’d be pretty good at it with all the experience he’s had. You go through our big play tape last year and matchup-wise, we were losing outside too many times. When you play good defense three out of four snaps, but then they just throw the ball over your head it’s very discouraging to the rest of the guys because you’re not making an offense earn it. With a guy like Chuck, he’s not going to be perfect, no corner is, but he has been there; he’s going to compete and he’s going to make offense earn things.”