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Unsung Charles Washington on the rise in Lions’ secondary

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Who is Charles Washington?

No one could reasonably expect a casual Detroit Lions fan to know.

An undrafted free agent out of Fresno State last season, Washington showed enough potential to earn a practice-squad job as a rookie, a role he maintained the full season. But practice-squad players are like background actors in a movie. Sure, you see them, but rarely do they draw your attention.

In his second season, Washington is looking to increase his profile, earn a real role. And it looks like the Lions are serious about giving him that opportunity.

In the two practices starting safety Tavon Wilson has been sidelined, it’s been Washington stepping into first-team void beside Glover Quin.

“Yeah, one of the things with those guys in particular, kind of the second-year guys, third-year guys, improvement is what you look for,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “You can see he has a much better comfort level with what we’re doing from a defensive standpoint.”

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Washington is quick to concede his coach’s point. Despite playing nearly every position in Fresno State’s secondary, in a scheme he said isn’t much different than what the Lions run, Washington struggled with the mental transition with the pro game. He said having a year to develop on the practice squad was a blessing in disguise.

“I came in and my head was spinning for about 365 days,” Washington said.

It wasn’t until this offseason, with the whirlwind of his first year behind him, that he could sit down and process what he was supposed to be doing on the field. And while he couldn’t identify the exact moment it happened, things started to click for Washington in the classroom, which has translated to the field.

Washington is an impressive athlete. He put on a show at his pro day, running a 4.44-second 40-yard dash and posting a jaw-dropping 41-inch vertical, which would have been among the best at his position had he been invited to the combine.

“These big ol’ calves have to get put to work,” he said with a laugh.

When he’s able to process a play, those physical skills give Washington tremendous coverage range. And his aggressive nature always will have him looking to make a play on the ball.

“He’s always shown that he has tenacity and he can run and he loves to play,” Caldwell said. “He’s got great passion for the game, so, I think those things kind of spill over into what you see on the field. He likes to mix it up. He’s coming along well.”

The path to a roster spot won’t come easy. The Lions are stacked at safety with Quin, Wilson, Miles Killebrew and special-teams standout Don Carey ahead of Washington on the depth chart. But the Lions kept five last year, and with his athleticism and wide-ranging skill set developed playing cornerback, nickelback and safety in college, he has a real shot to stick.