Defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox has a succinct summary of Shaq Thompson's status heading into last season.
"He just came from playing baseball, he had blisters on his feet and we were just trying to get him ready to play the first game," Wilcox said.
Whatever they did, it worked.
Thompson made 74 tackles his freshman season as part of a hope-raising trio of starting linebackers. The work of Thompson, John Timu (team-leading 91 tackles) and Travis Feeney (76 tackles) gives Washington one of its best linebacking corps in years.
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Considering Thompson was a true freshman, Feeney a redshirt freshman and Timu a true sophomore, Wilcox's assumption of improvement starts with the simple fact the group will be older.
He's also decided to tweak their approach a bit. As opposed to playing the field, they will be playing sides. Thompson used to move with the ball. This year, at least to start, if it's on the other hash, Thompson will stay on his side. Feeney will stay on his with Timu in the middle.
Wilcox's explanation for that:
"The tempo of it, so people get lined up a little quicker," Wilcox said. "But, also so they learn a couple different positions, so if someone were to get dinged this year -- knock on wood -- the next best player goes in, not the No. 2 at that position."
So, all three will learn the jobs of their fellow 'backers.
"Instead of rote memorization of the SAM position," Wilcox said. "Teach them the concept, not just the position."
Blisters healed and bat off his shoulder, Thompson, who is part of the Red Sox organization, is happy with the change.
"I think it’s very important," Thompson said. "You don’t want to be out there, everything running through your mind, where I have to line up, where I have to play next. Just get out there and play ball."
Feeney had to wait until the season and winter break were over in order to have right shoulder surgery. He missed spring practice because of it, but said Tuesday his shoulder is 100 percent. He wears a light black sleeve over the shoulder under his jersey.
"Done all my rehab," Feeney said. "I'm good to go."
Thompson may be the most talented all-around athlete in the group. Timu probably has the best understanding of the defensive concept. Feeney could be the fastest from sideline to sideline. They're an intriguing mix for a Washington defense that went from one of the worst in the country in 2011 to one of the top 30 in 2012 despite struggles against spread offenses.
Which leaves Wilcox expecting more from his linebacker group.
"There's a lot of reasons why they should approve," Wilcox said.