Georgia tight end Darnell Washington staying engaged despite leg injury

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Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

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Georgia Bulldogs tight end Darnell Washington (0) scores Georgia's first touchdown in the second quarter of the SEC Championship game between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Alabama Crimson Tide. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

A towering 6-foot-7 tight end and playmaker as both a receiver and blocker, Georgia junior Darnell Washington has flashed superstar potential over his first two seasons in Athens.

Building consistency, on the other hand, has been a struggle. After missing time in his sophomore season because of a broken foot, Washington has been sidelined once more this spring, this time with what coach Kirby Smart called a “lower-leg situation.”

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“It feels great,” Washington said. “I’m not really sure the time frame. I take it day-by-day and do my rehab.”

A five-star prospect out of Las Vegas, Washington made an immediate impact in his freshman season, quickly adjusting to the East Coast speed of the game and making seven starts. He recorded three catches for 46 yards and a 38-yard reception in the Peach Bowl victory against Cincinnati, while his willingness to block – after never having blocked in high school – helped him carve out a regular role on offense.

“I just want to be physical, I just want to attack,” Washington said. “When I first came here, my first time blocking somebody, it wasn’t pretty. My want-to got bigger, my why got bigger.”

After a strong G-Day performance last spring, Washington was slated to start at tight end for the Bulldogs’ season opener against Clemson until a broken foot knocked him out of the lineup.

Though he returned after four missed games and registered six starts over the course of the season, it was another Georgia tight end who captured the national spotlight. Freshman Brock Bowers became the Bulldogs’ leading receiver and recorded the most dominant season by a Georgia tight end in history, racking up 882 yards and 13 touchdowns and earning All-SEC honors.

“It was rough a little bit,” Washington said. “My role at the time was cheering on my team and Brock and whoever that may be.”

Despite the decrease in playing time and a crowded depth chart, Washington said he did not consider transferring and decided to stay in Athens for his junior season.

Washington’s chance to increase his role hit another snag this spring, when he sustained the latest injury while training. The setback has kept him off the practice field this spring and missing valuable reps.

Washington said that he is hoping for a summer return to action, though he is taking a short-term view to his rehab. So far this spring, Georgia’s coaching staff is taking a long-term view rather than rushing him back into action. He currently is using a scooter but is still working out and watching practice to stay up to speed with the offense.

“The biggest factor is just staying locked in,” Washington said. “I’m not out there, I’m just on the sideline looking at the signals.”

When Washington returns, he will compete for reps with a talented group of tight ends. Along with Bowers, sophomore Arik Gilbert could make an impact at receiver or tight end, while juniors Ryland Goede and Brett Seither give the position plenty of depth. The unit also boasts a top recruit in freshman Oscar Delp.

“It’s a talented room, but I just do my role,” Washington said. “If my role is to block, I’ll block. I’m a role player.”