Rookie Washington Sparks Jets’ Running Game

By Tony McClean
Updated: October 24, 2006

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — When training camp opened back in July, Jet rookie running back Leon Washington found himself low on Gang Green’s depth chart. However, the fourth round draft pick (117th overall) has seen his stock steadily rise over the past few weeks.

The 5-foot-8 native of Jacksonville is now one of four rookies that start for Eric Mangini’s bunch. He was also one of the main keys in New York’s 31-24 victory over the Detroit Lions this past Sunday.
Washington ran for a career-high 129 yards (his second 100-yard performance of the season) and scored his first two career touchdowns. It was part of an overall huge day on the ground for the Jets.
“It felt pretty good to come out here and help the team,” Washington said after Sunday’s win, “And being a young guy to help the team out and try to gain the confidence of the older guys and the coaches.”
The Jets ran for 221 yards against Detroit, who were playing without without their two starting defensive tackles. Shaun Rogers is serving a four-game suspension for a violation of the NFL’s rule on banned substances, and Shaun Cody is out with a dislocated toe.
New York totaled nearly 400 yards (398) of total offense. It’s most by a Jet squad since they churned out 482 yards in a 37-14 win against Seattle on December 19, 2004.
“Offensively, we did a real good job with the running game and that was a collective effort with the receivers on the perimeter blocking well”, said Jet coach Eric Mangini. “The offensive line did a nice job of getting a hat on a hat”.
“The tight ends and the fullbacks, and then the running backs taking advantage of those holes and also making some yards after contact”.
Despite his small stature, Washington has always been a runner that’s used his size and speed to his advantage. FSU’s offensive MVP in 2005, Washington is the only player in the Bobby Bowden era to score touchdowns five different ways (run, reception, punt return, kick off return and a fumble recovery).
His second score of the day against the Lions showed both Washington’s speed and strength. Late in the game and with the Jets clinging to a touchdown lead, Washington keyed a drive that was helped by Lion penalties.
With 4:51 left and the ball on Detroit’s 16, Washington took the ball, ran to the left and scooted 16 yards – tiptoeing the sideline for the score. “It was unbelievable for him to maintain his balance,” said Jet quarterback Chad Pennington. “That was a big-time play.”
“Whenever you run the ball, you’re able to control the defense and you can do things in your favor that help you win the game,” Washington said. “Today, we came out and obviously ran the ball early and were effective.”
After struggling with their running game early on, it appears that Jets may have found an answer to their woes in Washington. “That young guy, he’s great,” said safety Kerry Rhodes.
“The thing about him, he’s all about football. And for a young guy like him, he lives football. He is always here late studying, he’s got all the moves and he’s quick. It’s good for him and it’s good for us.”
NOTE: The Associated Press contributed to this article.