COLUMBIA — Derrick Washington's motto this season is "get money" — every time the senior tailback makes a big play, he gets symbolic "money." Saturday morning, in Missouri's first scrimmage of preseason camp, Washington earned himself a big bonus check.
Washington was a dynamo of big gains against any team the Tiger defense put on the field. Despite only touching the ball 10 times in the scrimmage, Washington gained 192 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Washington's stand-out performance was highlighted by a 42-yard run and a 47-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert.
After the first 10 days of preseason camp, the verdict is in — Washington is quicker, faster and better than ever.
Players in the Missouri program worked diligently in the spring and summer to drop weight, something head coach Gary Pinkel said he noticed was necessary after seeing former Tigers, now in the NFL, visiting Columbia slimmer than when they were playing for the Tigers.
"Even guys who's body fat is ok, maybe if he loses three or four pounds he might be a tad quicker," Pinkel said after practice Thursday. "That five pounds isn't going to help you play football, but it might help you be a better player."
Washington was one of the players who took the team goal to heart, dropping nine pounds before spring practice. In those practices, Washington's play was dramatically opposite of the sluggish form he exhibited in the 2009 season.
Last season, Washington played with a knee injury that hindered his ability to quickly manufacture speed from the backfield, as the Missouri offense requires. Now fully healthy and in the best shape of his football-playing career, Washington is running past the big linemen easily and getting into the open field, allowing him to go one-on-one against the smaller defensive backs. And Washington has a great winning percentage in his matchups against defensive backs.
Even though Washington might have dropped weight, he still has the power to break a lineman's arm tackle. Though on Saturday, Washington didn't need to break many tackles. Missouri's first-team offensive line manhandled the Tiger defensive line on running plays, allowing Washington to go past them untouched.
"(Derrick)'s doing a tremendous job in knowing what we're trying to do up front," offensive coordinator Dave Yost said. "They're making holes and Derrick is getting in those holes and now he's doing things at the second level."
"When you are going through untouched, you can't ask for anything more," Washington said. "When I'm getting money, the O-line is getting money."
Offensive line coach Josh Henson brought a new blocking system to the Tigers when he joined the Missouri coaching staff in 2009, and center Tim Barnes said that the line finally figured out the aggressive zone-blocking scheme in the last few games of the season. Indeed, as Washington's best performances in his forgettable 2009 season were the last four games of the season, when he averaged 6.06 yards per carry.
Barnes said that the line has carried its season-ending form into preseason practices, and with Washington fully healthy, the offense is expecting big things from the running game.
"It's working, everything's working," Washington said of the Tigers' running attack. "We're going to make big plays out of the backfield this year."
But Washington isn't just a threat carrying the ball. In the Tigers offense, he is frequently lined up as a wide receiver. Both Gabbert and Yost say that among all the wide receivers and tight ends on the team, Washington has the best hands.
"From the time he's gotten here, the only guy who I would say has better hands is Chase Coffman, and he's one of a kind," Yost said. "I don't know if it is a Ray-Pec thing." (Both Washington and Coffman attended Raymore-Peculiar high school in Raymore.)
But Washington isn't picky when it comes to positioning. He just wants to make plays.
"I can just make plays from any spot, that's what I like. Just get me that ball," Washington said with a smile.
Certainly, after a great spring and an outstanding start to preseason camp, Washington's confidence is at it's peak.
"Last year I kind of lost it (confidence) a little bit. I didn't know if guys had faith in me," Washington said.
But being named a team captain told Washington that his teammates still had faith in his abilities, and it convinced him to keep his offseason work ethic going in the fall.
"What greater honor can you have?" Washington said. "That humbled me."
Now Washington is the hype man of the team, bringing energy to the sidelines and to the field.
"If I come out flat, everyone else is going to come out flat," Washington said. "If I come out excited, and with enthusiasm, ready to go, the guys are going to come along and we're going to go a long way."
Washington can be as excited as he wants on the sidelines, but nothing brings more energy to his team than him averaging nearly 20 yards every time he touches the ball.
Washington's scrimmage was impressive, but the tailback wasn't surprised. He knows that he's playing at his top level. Now it's about bringing his teammates to the same level.
"This is just the beginning," Washington said. "I'm looking forward to Sept. 4, and making big things happen."