GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Daryl Washington is not accustomed to playing with the reserves. He is, after all, one of the best young defensive players in the league.
But, facing a four-game suspension for violating the NFL substance abuse policy, the Arizona Cardinals' standout inside linebacker finds himself working out with the second- and third-string players in training camp.
He also is facing assault and criminal trespass charges stemming from an incident with his former girlfriend. Washington appeared in court on Tuesday and the case was continued to Oct. 9. He has pleaded not guilty.
Through it all, Washington has proceeded at camp pretty much as if it's business as usual, practicing at full tilt, signing a multitude of autographs and speaking with reporters, although he avoids the details of his problems.
``When I come back, I just have to prove myself all over again,'' he said.
Everything seemed so much brighter a year ago, when after just two seasons in the NFL, the former second-round draft pick out of TCU signed a six-year contract worth up to $31 million. The deal was reached just three days before the season began, and Washington proceeded to have the best year of his career.
Utilizing his speed and athleticism in Arizona's 3-4 defense, he led the team with 140 tackles, nine sacks and 14 tackles for loss. One of the few bright spots in a dismal 5-11 season, Washington earned his first Pro Bowl nod.
Then in early April, the NFL announced that Washington had been suspended for the first four games of the coming season for violating the league's substance abuse policy. At the time, he issued a contrite statement through the team.
``I was always taught that when you make a mistake, you admit it, learn from it and face whatever consequences there are,'' the statement read. ``I take full responsibility and I understand that I let down my teammates, the organization and fans. I apologize for that and promise that no one will work harder to make up for it.''
A month later, Washington was in the news again for the wrong reason.
He was arrested and charged with aggravated assault and criminal trespass. Prosecutors accused him of grabbing his ex-girlfriend, the mother of the couple's baby girl, by the throat and shoving her to the ground during an argument at her apartment.
She also told police that he pushed her with two hands, causing her to fall and break her right collarbone.
Washington was freed after posting $2,400 bond.
As the case grinds through the court, it's unknown whether it will lead to further NFL disciplinary action.
For now, new Cardinals coach Bruce Arians knows Washington won't be eligible until week five, a home game Oct. 9 against the Carolina Panthers.
``He's getting a bunch of reps,'' Arians said. ``He'll play in a bunch of preseason games, probably more than he ever has, so that his preseason is his September, so that he has plenty of snaps in our defense and is ready to go.''
To ease the impact of Washington's absence, Arizona brought in veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby.
Washington said he doesn't mind working with the backups.
``I think we're all taking the same amount of reps,'' he said. ``My attitude is positive. I'll just be ready to go when I come back. Hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.''
Arians said he believes Washington has learned from what has happened to him this year.
``I think he knows his mistakes and he's fine,'' the coach said, ``and I'm fine with where he's at right now.''
Washington must know what a precarious situation he's in. More off the field trouble can only lead to more uncertainty for what seemed like such a bright NFL future. He's due a $10 million option bonus from the Cardinals next March.
``I'm a pretty strong person so I always try to take a negative situation and turn it into a positive,'' he said, ``and I think in the end it's going to make me a stronger person overall.''
Online: AP NFL site: http://pro32.ap.org
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