PITTSFORD – Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Adolphus Washington did a bit of thrill-seeking this offseason.
Washington and his girlfriend did the CN Tower EdgeWalk in Toronto, a hands-free walk on a 5-foot-wide ledge around the circumference of the tower’s main pod 116 stories above ground.
“It was my girlfriend’s birthday and she talked me into doing it,” Washington said Saturday following practice on the third day of training camp at St. John Fisher College. “Once I got up there and I realized how high we were, I was like, ‘This is crazy.’ And you have to pay. You pay to scare yourself.”
Participants are attached to an overhead safety rail, but that doesn’t take away from the terror of just how high in the air they are. Washington looked down and could see the Toronto Blue Jays playing in the Rogers Centre. His tour guide explained that they were so high up, it would take over a second after he’d see a hit to hear the noise of the bat.
“I never turned,” Washington said. “The tour guide would try to get me to turn around, my girlfriend would, but I wouldn’t do it. They have these other activities where you hang off of it, lean. Like, no, I didn’t do any of that.”
An experience like that makes stressful football moments feel like nothing.
“I enjoy coming out here and doing this,” Washington said. “That, I will never do again.”
In his third year with the Bills, Washington knows the spotlight is on.
"It's a big year for him, and he knows that," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Sunday. "A lot of eyes on him, and we need his production."
Frazier pulled Washington aside Saturday to laud him for his "consistency" through the early part of camp and urge him to keep pushing. "We need him to just keep rising and not have plateaus," Frazier said.
While the former third-round pick split last year between defensive tackle spots, Washington is primarily focused on playing at the three-technique this season, placing him at the outside shoulder of the guard. Washington is expected to serve as Kyle Williams' backup as the Bills plan to continue to rotate along the defensive line.
“I like that a lot better,” Washington said. “I played a little out of position last year, but that’s what they needed me to do. … Now, all my focus is on learning as much as I can from Kyle, learning as much as I can from the coaches, watching film and just being the best I can be.”
The three-technique is often considered the flashiest defensive tackle alignment, as the set is difficult for offensive lines to double team. In theory, that should lead to a needed increase in production from Washington, who has only 3.5 sacks in two seasons.
He said the luxury of attempting to master one spot instead of moving around should be a benefit as well.
“To focus on one position, you don’t have to worry about, ‘If I go to this position, what am I doing now?’” Washington said. “We kind of did that in OTAs. I went to nose guard and it wasn’t that big of a difference, but it just makes you think more.”
Despite the lack of eye-popping numbers, Washington was a major participant of the 2017 defense. He played 46 percent of the Bills’ defensive snaps in 2017, but there are factors pointing toward that number decreasing this year. He’s now set in one spot on the defensive line and Shaq Lawson could also get some time at defensive tackle in third-down pass situations.
However, the Bills might also want to give Williams more rest as he enters his 13th year. Frazier said the Bills don't want to play Williams "an overabundance of snaps."
“I think it’s all about what you do here at camp, building the trust of the coaches, building the trust of the teammates,” Washington said. “Hopefully, (my snaps) go up. That’s what I’m hoping and praying for.”
While far from an NFL veteran, Washington is in an increasingly shrinking group of players still around from the previous Bills regime. He’s one of four players left on the roster who were drafted by former general manager Doug Whaley, joined by Lawson, tight end Nick O'Leary and offensive lineman John Miller.
Washington also knew that he could have quickly become a former Bill last summer. He was arrested in his home state of Ohio in July on a misdemeanor charge of improperly carrying a concealed firearm. One of the first calls he made after the arrest was to McDermott, who had been clear on his desire for high-character players since the day he was hired.
Washington said the coach was "100 percent behind him." He was eventually cleared in late August.
He remained in the doghouse, even being a healthy inactive in the Week 4 game against Atlanta. But he said he "pats himself on the back" for working his way back into the coaches' good graces.
Now it’s time for him to prove the current brain trust made the right decision on him.
“For them to weed out the guys that they did and be one of the last four still here, I’m doing something right,” Washington said. “Obviously, I have to do more. … They are going to give the opportunity to change positions and go to my natural position. Now, I have to just put it out there and show them what I can do.”