Leon Washington is the ultimate team player, so it wasn't a surprise Sunday when he credited Jets strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi for a productive offseason.
"By believing in him, believing in his workout program and staying consistent and staying focused, it's really given me an opportunity so far in training camp to feel stronger and feel pretty special about myself," Washington said.
Earlier in the afternoon, head coach Eric Mangini praised the Jets most recent MVP for his preparation in the Alosi-led training program.
"He had an excellent offseason. He was actually our overall offseason award winner this year and you can see the work he did in the offseason translate on the field in all the different areas — his kickoff returns, his punt returns, his play at running back, his explosiveness at the picking up the blitz," Mangini said of Washington. "All that stuff has gotten better."
Alosi told Washington if the legs are strong, they'll carry the rest of the body. Washington, listed as 5'8", 202 in the media guide, took the message to heart and went to work on the foundation. The results were positive across the board.
"I went up in squat, I went up in bench," Washington said. "I pretty much went up in everything and that's really good on my part but it's good on Sal's part. He identified something I could improve on just by talking to me and saying I could do this. I think my bench went up 20 pounds and my squat went up 20 pounds."
Known for his speed, "Little Leon" put up some impressive numbers in the weight room. When asked what he maxed out on the bench and with his squat, the modest Washington spoke proudly of his accomplishments.
"I'll tell you. I squatted 525 and I benched 355," he said. "For a guy to be 195, that's pretty good."
Good might be a word for it but excellent might be more fitting. Washington says he's watched other successful vets, including Jerricho Cotchery and Kerry Rhodes, and attempted to mirror their approach.
"They're athletically talented. You know they'll go out there and play football really well, but if you can go out there and work hard and prepare yourself, it kind of sets yourself apart from other guys," he said. "It sets yourself apart from the rest of the league so to speak."
Washington, a fourth round selection (No. 117 overall) in the 2006 NFL Draft, was the only player in the Bobby Bowden era to score five different ways at Florida State (run, reception, punt return, kickoff return and fumble return). As a rookie, he led the Jets in rushing with 650 yards. Then last season, he set a single-season record with three kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Having proved to be a dynamic threat with the ball, Washington's increased strength will help him even when the ball isn't in his hands.
"I added more muscle mass and got a little bit stronger, so I can take on some pass blocking a little bit more," he said. "All those things really helped me out a lot especially very early in camp, especially with quickness and speed."
At every Jets practice, Washington makes at least a couple of dazzling plays. You sometimes take for granted what you're watching because he makes the extraordinary appear rather ordinary.
There's a lot of sweat behind Washington's run to prominence. Even when he wasn't with Alosi and back home in Orlando, FL, he was running the steps of his Andrew Jackson High School. Washington feels good in July, but he's got December and beyond in the back of his mind.
"My goal is to maintain that strength, work with Sal, talk to him a lot and take care of my body," he said. "If I can do that, hopefully at the end of the season when it counts most and you want to get to the playoffs, I can be strong enough."