It would have been easy for the Buffalo Bills to make an example out of Adolphus Washington.
The second-year defensive tackle was arrested in his home state of Ohio back in July on a misdemeanor charge of improperly carrying a concealed firearm. With a new coaching staff that placed a big emphasis on character under Sean McDermott, the Bills could have simply cut Washington to send a message to the rest of the team.
“Definitely,” Washington said Thursday. “My dad and my goddad, that was one of the first things they said. They was like, ‘you did this, so you've got to deal with whatever consequence comes your way.’ ”
As officers attempted to clear out a parking lot of the Splash Cincinnati Water Park, Washington “reached for and displayed a gun while sitting inside his vehicle,” without first informing them, according to a police report.
After being processed at the Sharonville Police Department, Washington’s Jeep broke down on the drive home. At this point, it was after 2 a.m. He called AAA, but the road service never arrived. Close to a friend’s house, Washington got help pushing his vehicle off to the side of the road and went in to get a few hours of sleep.
He woke up to a series of missed calls, and learned his car had been towed for blocking an alley.
“It was just a lot of stuff going bad at that time,” Washington recalled. “What else could possibly happen, you know?”
One of Washington’s first calls after his arrest was to McDermott. Knowing the emphasis his head coach had placed on character after taking over the team in January, Washington knew that phone call might mean he would soon be an ex-Buffalo Bill.
“Whatever decision they make, you've got to live with that, because you made that decision, you made that mistake,” he said. After talking to my dad, I was pretty much prepared for whatever might happen.”
What Washington found, however, was a coaching staff that had his back.
“Once I talked to coach McDermott, the way he explained it to me, he was behind me 100 percent,” he said. “He told me to just stay honest with him, let him know everything that’s going on.”
From that point, Washington was in almost daily conversations with McDermott and defensive line coach Mike Waufle.
“I kept them included in everything that was talked about, everything that went on, every meeting I had with my lawyer,” he said. “They were 100 percent clear on everything that was going on.”
While Washington held up his end of the bargain with the coaching staff, he admitted that the charge weighed heavy on his mind.
“I was thinking about it too much,” he said. “I really do think it was affecting my play.”
Washington, however, was confident that the case would be resolved in his favor. That happened Aug. 28 when he was found not guilty.
“Once I got it behind me, I feel like that's when I started getting better,” he said. “I stopped thinking about that and started worrying about my team, my teammates and just producing on the field.
“From where I started out from at the beginning of camp to where I am now, I've made tremendous progress,” he said. “At one point it was like I was pretty much in the doghouse. I pat myself on the back for being able to continue to work hard, to work myself out of the doghouse and get on the coaches' good side.”
That’s not to say there haven’t been some bumps in the road. Washington was a healthy inactive for the Bills’ win in Atlanta in Week Four. Once again, he felt like his career was at a crossroads.
Washington, however, found all the motivation he needed just a few feet to his left in the Bills’ locker room. Fellow defensive tackle Kyle Williams is a veteran of 12 NFL seasons whose leadership is invaluable to his younger teammates. Work like Kyle, Washington said to himself, and the results will follow.
“Probably the biggest thing is I've seen improve is his work habits at practice,” McDermott said Thursday. “That has led to him playing better in games. Not that he wasn't playing well before, it's just I've noticed an increase in urgency. … That's what you want to see in a player in his second year. He's starting to understand what it's going to take to play in this league on a game-to-game and then on a play-in, play-out situation.”
Washington got back into the lineup after his one-game absence starting in his hometown of Cincinnati in Week 5, and his playing time has only increased from there. After Marcell Dareus was traded to Jacksonville before the Week 8 game against Oakland, Washington found himself promoted to starter.
"It was sad to see Marcell go," Washington said. "But since I've played, it's always been 'next man up.' And I was the next man up, so I was glad that I could step into that role and take over."
The Bills selected Washington in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft out of Ohio State. He finished his rookie year with 11 starts, making 21 tackles and 2.5 sacks. He never felt at home in former coach Rex Ryan's 3-4 scheme, though.
"I've never played a 3-4 in my life," he said. "I was doing my best, I just wasn't successful at it."
So when McDermott took over and switched the team back to a 4-3, it was a return to something more comfortable. Washington was also happy to get off the S.S. Rex – which is known for being a loose ship – and play for a coach who reminds him of the Buckeyes' Urban Meyer.
"The accountability factor, everybody doing their job, being 1/11th, It's something I was used to for four years," Washington said. "Having McDermott come in and reinstall those same core values has helped me a lot."
Washington would be the first to tell you his game isn't where it needs to be just yet. He has 14 tackles, including three for losses, and two passes defensed in seven games. As a team, the Bills' run defense was gashed in Week 9 against the New York Jets, giving up 194 yards on the ground.
The Bills, though, have confidence that Washington can develop into a difference-maker on the inside of their defense.
"Sometimes it just takes time," McDermott said. "This is a different game than what these players are used to playing in college. This is the best of the best in the world. So there's an acclimation process that young players go through, in particular when you play inside where there's friction every play. That can wear on you.
"So to play at that level inside, that takes some getting used to. Very rarely do you see a player come in and have a huge impact the first year. So I've been pleased with the way he's worked and the habits he's developed, that are setting himself up for success on the field."