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.”
• Backup nose guard Ryan Steele (Kingsburg) had a couple of nice reps in a one-on-one pass rush/protect drill against backup center Ben Simonds, blowing by and into the backfield.
• The quarterback play was a bit inconsistent when in team periods, though there was a reason behind the struggles with Zack Greenlee, Kilton Anderson and Chason Virgil. “Defensively, we gave them some different looks today,” DeRuyter said. “I talked to our guys at the end of practice about we have to learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable. There is going to be times where we see things we haven’t practiced against and you can’t panic. I think we did that a little today. You give kudos to the defense for coming up with something new that caused some issues. We have to respond on offense. That’s the great thing about spring — you get to see some different looks. You prepare for everything, but some days you don’t look good because you weren’t efficient at it, but we’ll get better at it.”
• Nose guard Nate Madsen continues to have a strong spring. The Bulldogs didn’t do any live tackling Wednesday, playing to thud. But Madsen was in position to make plays. “Nate has had a great spring so far,” defensive coordinator Nick Toth said. “I really like how he has progressed.”
• Woodson on defensive back Alan Wright, a JC transfer from Blinn College in Texas: “He’s progressing well. He came out and really made a great impression on his teammates and the coaches early on, and then the install, the more that we threw at him, it kind of slowed his progress down just a tad. But now he’s playing faster and with more confidence with the things that we are installing because he’s getting more used to it. And he’s a smart guy. He’s a tell-him-once type player that just takes reps at times to get him used to the scheme. But I’m really impressed with him and he’s going to have a big impact for us this fall.”