Western Illinois defensive lineman Cam Washington (25) had a strong set of spring practices in Macomb. (Photo by McDonough County Voice)
By Barry Bottino
MACOMB – With only 24 defensive players on the roster this spring, plenty of new faces could be in the lineup Sept. 1 when Western Illinois opens the 2022 football season at Tennessee Martin.
One constant for the Leathernecks, however, is likely to be Cam Washington, the senior defensive lineman who earned plenty of praise Friday from the team’s new coaching staff.
“Cam Washington is a guy who I feel great about playing any of our defensive line spots,” WIU head coach Myers Hendrick/son said after the Leathernecks’ annual spring game. “He’s had a great spring. Cam is a super smart football player.”
Washington showed off his flexibility this spring, playing all three spots along the defensive front, including strong play at nose tackle.
“The nose is the most comfortable position for me. I will say that,” Washington told Prairie State Pigskin. “I definitely learned the other two spots. You can put me anywhere and I’ll still perform.”
The 6-foot-4, 295-pound Washington appeared in 10 games last fall, starting twice, and compiled seven total tackles and a sack.
On Friday, he stuffed a run play for a safety. But halting opposing running backs won’t be his only job this fall.
“(My role) is definitely defined,” Washington said. “Instead of being more of just a run stopper and being someone on first and second down, I’m finding more roles on first and second and third down, and sometimes even fourth down.”
Washington said the team likely will “shake it up” on defense, using both 4-3 and 3-4 defensive front alignments. Regardless of the front, Washington said he expects to make an impact.
“This scheme allows me to play more aggressively,” he said. “I’m able to play straight-ahead football and play that physical style that I’m capable of playing instead of having to think all the time.”
In a new-look defensive backfield, senior cornerback JJ Ross is returning after starting 10 games in 2021, when he led WIU with six passes defended and collected 35 tackles.
“I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better,” said Ross, who began his career at Eastern Illinois. “Tackling, for sure.”
Though the WIU roster was limited this spring, Ross and the Leathernecks got plenty accomplished.
“We still worked,” he said. “We didn’t make any excuses. Whatever opportunities we had, we just got better.”