Rashad Washington is a survivor.
Rashad Washington has always been an easy-going guy whose game often flew under the radar. But at this Jets camp, there is a certain professional flintiness that Washington has acquired as, for instance, he stares out at the field after another long, hot practice.
"I went back home and spent time with the family, trained — that's about it," Washington said today of his time off between minicamp and training camp. "I kept it real simple. I knew this time would be coming around quickly as usual, so I didn't try to do so much traveling, stuff like that. I started early to refresh my body and try to maintain my conditioning that we had before we left."
And the reason for this simple life is due to the law of the NFL jungle. Washington is a fourth-year NFL pro now, with no starts in his first three seasons, and the safety field is crowded. There are Kerry Rhodes and Erik Coleman, the incumbent starters, plus second-year man Eric Smith, veteran free agent Raymond Ventrone, Jamie Thompson of his NFL Europa season, and rookie free agent James Ihedigbo.
"It's going to be the same thing every year. You kind of get used to it," Washington said. "There are always going to be new faces, and you're going to most of the time have the same guys who've been here doing the same things for a while. You've just got to go out and compete every day — that's your job."
Rashad's been doing that for a while, ever since arriving as a seventh-round pick out of Kansas State in 2004, but there haven't been a lot of defensive highlights: 1.5 sacks, one pass breakup, 22 tackles. His career highlight was a 99-yard interception-return touchdown in 2005 that would've been the second-longest in franchise history — if it had come in the regular season. Rather, it came during the last preseason game at Philadelphia.
But he has earned his keep by making significant contributions to Mike Westhoff's special teams the past two seasons, during which he's led the Jets with 48 coverage tackles. Last season the Green & White came in fourth in an unofficial group ranking of all the NFL's special teams units.
"Mike wants to be No. 1, and a lot of guys feel the same," Washington said. "We're just trying to get better, improve in our return game and also as a coverage unit. We did so good on kickoff returns last year, and we're just trying to get our punt returns up there with our kickoff returns. If everybody gets their schemes down right, there's no reason why we shouldn't be around the top ranking in the league."
So Washington is doing his usual thing with the special forces three days into camp. But he's also showing up on defense, making a couple of nice plays today: an interception on a batted pass and a tackle at the line on a run blitz.
"It's all football to me," he said. "I kind of want to get the shadow off from over my head, to show people I'm able to play safety, too. But I never want to lose the special teams in me, because that's what got me here and I just want to help that area improve as much as possible."
And in improving the D and the specials, he'll will be improving himself. It's all a part of surviving camp after camp, year after year in the NFL. With apologies to Discovery Channel's Les Stroud, Washington has become the pro football equivalent of "Survivorman."
"I'm getting back into the swing of things. It's only the third day of practice," Washington said with his hard resolve. "I'm just trying to refresh everything, put it all back together. When new things come along, we'll just deal with them then."