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Sizing Up Washington

Linebacker getting bigger, but speed provides giant impact


Linebacker Daryl Washington levels an Eagle last weekend in Philadelphia.

Daryl Washington heard it plenty of times, both in college and when he first arrived in the NFL.

People would ask how much he weighed, and what position he played. They'd guess receiver. They'd guess safety. They wouldn't guess linebacker.

"I'd say, 'Linebacker,' " Washington recalled. "They'd be like, 'No you don't!' "

Former Cardinals defensive lineman Bryan Robinson would hassle Washington constantly, telling him "Man, you're one of the smallest linebackers I have ever seen." And it reached apocryphal levels. Rookie linebacker Sam Acho wasn't around last season but "apparently before I got here, he was barely hitting 200 (pounds)."

It was never that dire. Washington played as a rookie around 225 pounds. But weight isn't what Washington about. It may be easy to needle him in the locker room, but his teammates know how gifted of a player he is, and why.

"He runs like a deer. Gazelle. Cheetah," linebacker Clark Haggans said. "Whatever you want to call it."

Said strength and conditioning coach John Lott, "He'll never hear 'Gain a pound' from me, because God gave him the gift to run."

Washington has quickly developed into one of the Cardinals' better defenders, and best playmakers, and his speed is at the forefront. With defensive coordinator Ray Horton slowly figuring out ways to use Washington to exploit his speed, Washington is quickly becoming a player for whom opponents must account.

He is second on the team with 55 tackles (one behind fellow inside 'backer Paris Lenon) but is by far the leader in unassisted tackles with 49, a nod to his speed and tracking down players who have kept their distance from the rest of the defense.

"I see myself making plays, but I also see myself in need of some work," said Washington, who also has three sacks and one interception that should be three, if it weren't for one called back on penalty and another dropped. "Couple sacks I could have had, a couple tackles I should have made, a couple of alignments I should have been in."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Washington is still "young in the system" considering what the Cards have asked him to do, but athletically, he's exactly what the Cards thought when they considered drafting him in the first round in 2009 (the team took nose tackle Dan Williams with the No. 26 overall pick and then traded up in the second round to snag Washington).

"You are encouraged about what he can become," Whisenhunt said.

Acho remembered coming into the linebackers meeting room for the first time late in the summer. He didn't know Washington and he didn't know uniform numbers. He looked at a board that listed all the players by number only and read "No. 58 – Fast. Real Fast."

"Everyone teased him about his size and weight (last year) but we knew he had speed," linebacker O'Brien Schofield said. "The weight might not say much, but he is pretty big upstairs and he's a baller, and that's all that matters."

Washington weighs about 234 these days, having packed some muscle on his 6-foot-2 frame. "You want to make sure you can run," Washington said, but he figures he can reach the 237-240 range over the next year and not lose any of his speed.

"I need to look like a linebacker, not just play the position," Washington said.

"With the pads on, and then playing on TV, that adds another three or four (pounds)," he added with a smile. "I might look 245."

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