FOXBORO, Mass. — Leon Washington is one of the NFL’s best kick returners, but he doesn’t like to let such titles define him.
Washington was on the field for his first day of training camp with the Patriots on Friday, returning kicks to thunderous applause from the few hundred fans who withstood the elements outside at Gillette Stadium. His speed was immediately noticeable, as he seemed primed to break just about every return the length of the field. That sort of special teams talent can be lethal, especially in close games, which is why the 30-year-old return specialist takes so much pride in his craft.
“I always took pride in being the kick returner,” Washington said. “You’re always getting the ball, either at the beginning of the game or after halftime or after the opposing team scores, so there’s always opportunity to instantly grab that momentum. If you can do that, you can definitely have a positive [impact] for your team.”
Washington averaged 29 yards per return with the Seattle Seahawks in 2012, good for second in the NFL, but, all pride aside, he wants to contribute more than just a return here and there. He’s ready to do whatever it takes to win.
“My role is to come out here and help this football team win in the best way I can,” Washington added. “I’m a football player, whether that means going out and making a tackle on kickoff, returning kicks, catching the ball or running the ball. Whatever I need to do to help this team win games, I’m down for it.”
He already sounds the part and, given Friday’s performance, he’s starting to look it, too.