Lions' RB Washington struggling to explode off launch pad

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
RB Dwayne Washington - No one is doubting the rookie’s skill set, but his patience and vision left plenty to be desired. He averaged 2.9 yards per attempt with only three of his 90 carries going for more than 10 yards. GRADE: D

Allen Park — The Detroit Lions drafted Dwayne Washington in the seventh round, and subsequently kept the running back on the roster, because of the big-play ability he exhibited in both college and the preseason.

The decision looked brilliant when Washington ripped off a 28-yard gain against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2 on his third carry of the season. But he hasn’t had an explosive play since that run. With his past 46 touches, the rookie hasn’t gained more than nine yards.

Despite a hulking 6-foot-1, 223-pound frame — nearly identical to Minnesota Vikings superstar Adrian Peterson — Washington has a propensity for getting stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage far too often.

Washington has undeniable talent, and his size makes him potentially more dangerous, but the young back is still developing the nuanced skills required to thrive at his position — patience and vision. He’s also struggled in pass protection, whiffing on blitz pickups the past two games.

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“There’s a factor of that, there’s a factor of that,” offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said. “Sometimes he gets ready to hit that hole and maybe does it a little faster than would be ideal. He’s learning all those things, he’s getting better week to week, you know we’ve had some ups and some downs, but I’m excited about him keeping developing and kind of see where he’s going.

Cooter said vision is inherent, but can also be taught and improved with repetitions.

And while Washington carries some culpability in his inconsistent debut season, which has seen him average 2.8 yards per carry heading into Sunday’s game against New Orleans, his run blocking has also been far from ideal. He’s been forced to make tacklers miss in the backfield far more than should be reasonably expected. The same can be said for all of Detroit’s running backs.

Washington remains the team’s No. 2 back behind Theo Riddick and the Lions remain confident the rookie will only continue to improve.

“Obviously you haven’t seen the best of him yet,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “I just think that every week that I watch him out there in terms of preparation, he just gets better. He has a better understanding of what we’re doing. He’s not perfect yet. He’s got a long way to go. He’s just got to keep working, but he has the talents.”

Twitter: @justin_rogers