Ten minutes with Missouri RB Derrick Washington

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

It's been difficult for Derrick Washington to sit on the sideline the first several days of Missouri's football practice this spring.

Washington had arthroscopic knee surgery in February to get ready for the upcoming season and plans to return to practice in two weeks -- after the Tigers' break next week for spring vacation.

Here are some of Washington's thoughts about the upcoming season and becoming more of an offensive weapon for the Tigers in 2009 as they rebuild after losing quarterback Chase Daniel, wide receiver/kick returner Jeremy Maclin and tight end Chase Coffman.

How has practice gone so far and how difficult is it for you to watch from the sideline compared to participating?

Derrick Washington: I'm rehabbing and just helping the team. I hate sitting out and watching. I see the competition going on across practice and wish I could be in it, too. It's hard for me to watch.

After getting the arthroscopic surgery, do you feel like you're coming close to being able to participate in practice?

DW: It's going pretty good. My rehab is going well and I'm working out twice a day. I'm trying to get my stride back and that's coming along, too. I should be back at practice in about a week.

I think the scope helped me out. I'm strengthening it with my work and getting stronger. I should be ready to help us out before too long.

Was that the first serious knee injury you had ever had and when do you think it happened?

DW: I think it happened last season in the Southeast Missouri State game (Missouri's second game last season). I played with it almost the whole year. But going through something like that made me a stronger and tougher athlete.

It was funny, but my mother noticed the injury first and more than anybody. She told me she was seeing that I wasn't running like I normally do. And then when I watched what she was talking about, I noticed the same thing.

You had a great first season as a starter, rushing for more than 1,000 yards and leading the Tigers in scoring. What do you think you can do to improve on that in Year 2?

DW: I think I can still get a lot stronger and faster and finish my runs stronger. I can deliver the blow when I'm running rather than catching it from the defender. I'm trying to fix little things in my running style.

Those things come from my running style. I run a little too straight up for my coaches and I need to start lowering my shoulder more. I've been doing it for the longest time and I need to change. I just need to stay low when I hit the hole. I really started working at it during the end of the year.

I've got to be tougher and quicker. These defenders are fast and they always seem to be coming downhill after us. I'm getting used to it more. I'm watching and studying more and trying to evolve into a better running back.

You guys are losing a lot of offensive talent after Daniel, Maclin and Coffman among all the others left school. What kind of role do you expect for yourself with the arrival of new players at the position and an offense looking for a lot of new playmakers?

DW: We are young at receiver and quarterback. I think Blaine [projected starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert] will step in and do a nice job for us. Hopefully, I'll be able to emerge and produce and have more of a presence when I'm playing for us, too.

I hope I can be more of a playmaker. I made some last year and I'd like to be able to do it again this year.

There's a lot of interest obviously in Blaine as he attempts to replace Chase Daniel. What have you seen in Gabbert's early work?

DW: Gabbert has come a long way. He's throwing the ball extremely well and his confidence is growing. It will be different for him from how it's been in the past, but I think he'll do well in the role. And he'll have to lead us -- one way or another.

What have your thoughts been as you've recovered from your injury?

DW: You can't ever take anything for granted. You can't think about it. You've got to go out and play hard every day -- give what you can while you've got your chance. I've been thinking about that as I've been coming back. I've never had to do anything like this and it's been hard.

Missouri is coming off back-to-back North Division championships. But many observers don't think you can do it in 2009 after all of your personnel losses. How is that resonating with your team as you get ready this spring?

DW: I'm really looking forward to the season. There are a lot of doubters out there and we're looking forward to proving them wrong. We're going to play a lot like we did last year. And it's not a rebuilding year for us. We're just going to reload and we'll be fine. We have the athletes to do it.

What were your thoughts coming into last season and did your early success (500 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in Missouri's first five games) surprise you?

DW: I really didn't know what to expect. I just wanted to play like I always have done when I got my chance. And as I started playing more, it helped my confidence grow. I was nervous when I got started, but gradually settled down and got more comfortable as I continued playing. I kind of surprised myself as the year went on.

Missouri started very fast last season but limped home with losses against Kansas and Oklahoma before beating Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl. How has that finish inspired you coming into the spring?

DW: It's sparked us up a lot. One thing our coaches have really been emphasizing is that people remember how you play in November. We didn't do that as well as we would have liked last year. Guys are rallying up and we're ready to go for next season. Especially losing to Kansas like we did. I've heard about that game my whole life. I don't want that to happen like it did last year again.