FOXBORO: Nate Washington enters his first season with the Patriots in an unfamiliar situation. For the first time since his rookie season, the 12-year veteran is on the roster bubble.
Washington, 32, has accomplished plenty in his NFL career and hopes to add another chapter in New England.
“This has been a heck of a journey — my NFL career. I didn’t think I would last long,” Washington said. “By the grace of God and hard work, I’m still here. It’s an honor to be in this organization, obviously for them to even invite me here to this camp. They really appreciate what I put on film. Every day I come out and make sure I’m getting better and make sure I’m doing everything they ask me to do.”
Washington has accomplished more throughout his career than most of his teammates and competitors for the Patriots’ fifth wide receiver spot. Last year, in Houston, he finished with 658 yards – which would have ranked third on the Patriots behind Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski.
Washington has been more productive than Chris Hogan, Keshawn Martin, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson and the rest of the young receivers in Foxboro. Prior to Houston, he had four seasons with the Steelers and six with the Titans.
For the Patriots — if everyone is healthy — it’s safe to say that Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell are roster locks. That would leave Washington battling with Martin, Dobson, Devin Lucien, Chris Harper and DeAndre Carter for the final spot.
“Iron sharpens iron,” Washington said when asked about the team’s receiver depth. “That’s always what I compare it to. These guys in our group have done a tremendous job at coming out at camp and working hard. We push each other. We’re not playing numbers games. We’re just carrying out our assignments and doing whatever we can to help our team right now.”
Washington’s chances at a roster spot with the Patriots might also hinge on who is healthy come September. Amendola and Edelman are nursing injuries and not practicing at minicamp. That’s given Washington, along with everyone else, more reps with Tom Brady. If either Edelman or Amendola can’t start the season, it would, of course, leave a roster spot available.
Washington had two catches on Wednesday after finishing with nine on Tuesday. At this point in his career, he’s used to fighting for playing time. He says he’s embracing the competition.
“These guys on this team have definitely pushed us and pushed each other to the limit,” Washington said. “To see some of the plays they can make, it definitely shows you that you have to come out here every single day and make plays.
– “All the guys are trying to pick each other up. It’s a brotherhood at the end of the day. Nobody is in competition with each other. Attitude wise, we’re still helping each other out and teaching each other the intricacies of the routes and the offense.”
Washington’s focus is learning the playbook and the system. He’s already ahead of the learning curve after playing in Houston under Bill O’Brien, who uses a similar offense. In his career, Washington has mostly played outside the numbers as a receiver, but with the Patriots, he’s been trying to learn each receiver position.
“This offense, with these guys, so many formations you never know where you’re going to end up,” Washington said. “I’m learning the concepts of every guy across the board just in case they put me anywhere right now. I don’t know where I’ll be, but every single day I’m just trying to come out and make plays.”
Washington’s certainly willing to step outside his comfort zone. He’s savvy enough to know in this league, the more you can do on the field will help you in the long run.
“I just try to keep my head down. Tunnel vision. There’s a job to be done.”