Lions give Washington a shot as kick returner

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Rookie running back Dwayne Washington pulls in a reception Monday.

Allen Park – As if a rookie already doesn’t have enough on his plate attempting to adjust to life in the NFL, Detroit Lions running back Dwayne Washington is being asked to handle kickoffs for the first time.

Washington lined up deep during practice last week and was one of the primary kickoff return men during the team’s mock game at Ford Field on Saturday.

A gifted open-field runner with a long stride, the Lions want to see how the 6-foot-2, 226-pound Washington’s size and speed play in the role.

“He’s a big body, and he’s willing,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “Back there is an area that obviously you need some speed to hit the holes, and hit them quickly, but you also need some girth to withstand some of the impact that happens on those plays. He has both of those, just in terms of attributes.”

The speed has been apparent since the first time the seventh-round draft pick stepped on the practice field, but Caldwell noted that the rookie must learn to be more decisive in the role. Washington says his focus is on knowing where he’s heading before the ball arrives, so he can make one cut and reach his top gear quickly.

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Washington faces an uphill battle for a roster spot given the team’s backfield depth. But establishing himself as a capable return man helps set him up to contribute down the road, even if he has to spend some time on the practice squad to start this year.

At the University of Washington, the high school receiving standout was a dual-threat out the backfield, averaging 5.8 yards per carry during his three years at the school and contributing 25 receptions for 315 yards last season.