NORMAN — Coaches love fifth-year seniors for many reasons. Even if the player is only in his early 20s, he still has a wisdom most 19- and 20-year-olds lack.
Oklahoma defensive ends coach Bobby Jack Wright feels that way about senior R.J. Washington. There’s a blunt honesty in the pair’s relationship.
When Washington was asked how he’s played in the first two games, he gave a candid assessment.
“I think it’s kind of sub-par, to be honest with you,” he said. “I thought I could have a lot more plays and a lot more sacks. I’m hoping to crack that in the next couple of games and the rest of the season.”
Wright wasn’t surprised when he heard Washington’s evaluation.
“That’s the way he should act. He hasn’t. He’s not played well at all. He’s played about like he always plays and there hasn’t been a lot of improvement and a lot of change,” the coach said. “He needs to — for a fifth-year senior he’s a guy that needs to jump out and show that he’s capable of being an every-down player and right now he’s actually not.”
The fact Washington believes he’s capable of more, and Wright won’t settle until he squeezes every bit of potential out him, is a dynamic the two have had since Wright returned to coaching defensive ends in 2010.
Washington was one of the Sooners’ highly coveted recruits two years earlier, but the talent just wasn’t translating to the field. It wasn’t until last season that he finally started playing every game. He rotated in behind starters Frank Alexander, Ronnell Lewis and David King and finished the season with five sacks.
Alexander and Lewis are both playing in the NFL. This is the season Washington needs to emerge as the every-down force they were. Thus far, the results have been so-so with nine tackles and no sacks.
However, this is the week that could change. The sixth-ranked Sooners (2-0) face No. 15 Kansas State (3-0) on Saturday.
One of the reasons the Sooners, who have won six straight over the series, have played so well against Kansas State has been the play of their defensive ends. The Wildcats attack a defense’s edges as well as any team in the country. Good defensive ends have the opportunity for huge games. Struggling ones get exposed in a hurry.
“If we don’t do our responsibilities, you’re going to notice it right away,” Washington said. “We have fits we have to make, a lot of plays we have to make depending on what plays they are running. We can make plays in their run game. If we’re not doing that, like the guys last year, it’s going to be a long game.”
But it means playing the run, which Wright says has never been Washington’s strong suit. The 6-3, 256-pounder has always been able to sprint by offensive tackles. Against the Wildcats, defensive ends have to hold their ground and be a force in the run game. What happens on Saturday could be a make-or-break game in deciding whether Washington will be that every-down defensive end OU wants him to be.
“It’s my job to get him out there in situations where he can do well and not have him out there in situations where he’s not able to do quite as well,” Wright said. “I’ve gotta be smart enough to pick and choose the right times.”
John Shinn Follow me @john_shinn firstname.lastname@example.org