But since being acquired by the Seahawks in a draft day from the New York Jets, the always-explosive, often-electrifying running back has been a sideline spectator for minicamp and OTA practices – as was the case again on Tuesday.
Peripheral glances, however, can be misleading.
It’s after practice that Washington gets down to work, rehabbing the broken right leg that ended his 2009 season and put his promising career not only on hold but in jeopardy.
“There’s a lot going on, it’s just unseen,” Washington said.
Like running up the berm that is adjacent to the outdoor practice fields. Like pushing his 5-foot-8, 203-pound body through a battery of tests and exercises in the indoor practice facility. But instead of everyone seeing his butt-busting efforts, only the eyes of a single trainer are trained on his every move.
“I’m working behind the scenes,” he said with a smile.
And at hours when the other players are doing other things. His days start at 6:45 a.m. When the team doesn’t practice, he leaves about 1 p.m. On practice days, he’s at it until 3.
“This whole process has been fun, because every week I come in and I feel better and better,” he said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, I can do this, and I couldn’t do that last week.’ So that’s been the fun thing about busting my butt.”
The progress is what continues to push Washington. He began cutting on his surgically repaired leg the past two weeks. There really is light at the end of what seemed like an endless tunnel.
“I feel great,” he said. “The way I’m going right now, I’ll be out there at (next week’s) minicamp doing a few little drills.”
A few little drills? Baby steps, but still steps in the right direction toward being ready to practice when training camp opens in late July.
“It’s kind of cool, putting that work in without people noticing,” he said. “When I get on the field, it will be a big surprise.”
Washington’s injury has been described as gruesome, even grotesque. It was, after all, a compound fracture of the tibia and fibula. It happened when Tommy Kelly, a 300-pound defensive tackle for the Oakland Raiders, rolled over Washington’s ankle in a game last October.
When Washington looked down, he could see the bone poking through his skin and blood flowing down his shin.
Out, but never down. That was, and continues to be, Washington.
“As soon as I talked to the doctors, they told me, ‘Hey, you don’t have any ankle or knee damage. All it is is getting the bone healed and getting that strength back,’ ” Washington said. “So for me, there was only one way to go and that’s up.
“That’s how I took it. After that, it was just about fighting through adversity.”
And being a role model for his sons, Leon Jr. and Noel.
“It would be a great story for them to read when they get to be teenagers that their dad broke his leg in the four year of his career and went on to have a good career,” Washington said.
So much of Washington’s career has been built on his speed and explosive burst. Will he emerge from this ordeal with both intact?
“It’s always a thought in your mind,” Washington said. “But at the same time, I’ve reassured myself that if I work hard I can get back stronger than ever.”
Look at former Seahawks wide receiver Joey Galloway. He torn knee ligament during his career at Ohio State, but came back even faster than he was before the injury and has played in the NFL for 15 seasons.
“I’ve basically been in training camp since October, since I broke my leg,” Washington said. “I’ve been in training mode, so I’m positive I can come back stronger than before. I’ve still got my fast-twitch muscles. I’m still out there cutting. I’m running straight ahead and getting pretty good speed.
“So from that point, I feel like I’ve still got it.”
When the rest of his new teammates break for five weeks before training camp starts, Washington will head to Florida – for more training, in that heat and humidity.
“I’m going to get some vitamin D in my system,” he said. “I’m just excited. It feels great to be moving around, cutting. It’s been a long time coming.”
Coach Pete Carroll can’t wait to see just what he’s got in Washington – who was voted to the Pro Bowl as a kick returner in 2008, when he also averaged 5.9 yards per carry and caught 47 passes.
“I can’t tell you that we’ve seen anything since he’s been here that lets us know that we’ve got a football player of any stature right now,” Carroll said earlier this spring. “I don’t know that. I know that what I saw I loved. I loved the way he played. I loved the things he was able to do for the Jets last year.
“If we get that football player, he’s going to be a factor on this team. It’s just going to take some time before we know.”
But that’s why Washington is being so diligent about his rehab. He wants to erase the past tense from Carroll’s assessment, turning “loved” into “love.” He needs to do it for himself, but also the team that took a chance on him.
“It truly would be a blessing to be so fortunate to get back out and play football, especially for an organization that believes in me,” Washington said. “To make a trade for me, coming off a broken leg, that says a lot about the faith they have in me.
“And I promised them, I’m going to make them right.”