When Sark cashiered his old defensive coaching staff following the 2011 Alamo Bowl, one of the biggest beneficiaries was the defensive backfield. The turnaround in the play of the corners under Keith Heyward was immediate and significant as Desmond Trufant realized his significant talent and became a 1st round NFL pick and Marcus Peters emerged as a significant talent in his own right.
The big question heading into 2012 was whether Peters could replace Trufant as the lock-down corner on the team and if someone else could emerge to compliment Peters. Mission accomplished - Peters had a fantastic season, and while Greg Ducre wasn't at that level, he was good enough often enough to help the pass defense post even better numbers in 2012 than they did in 2011, as they were among the best such units in the country.
What we said heading into the season:
Peters is being counted on to be the leader of this group. While it's probably unfair to expect he can match the play of Trufant, he's in his 3rd year in the program and has the physical tools to be a high-level player. He's shown a knack for big plays, and the next step is providing consistency to where the staff can count on him to contain the opponent's best WR.
- Pass defense: 107.5 passer rating allowed (10th nationally); 55.0% completions (24th nationally); 5.8 ypa (tied 7th nationally)
- Marcus Peters: 5 interceptions/9 pass-breakups/14 passes defensed; 55 tackles, 3.5 TFl, 1 sack
Players lost: Greg Ducre (graduated), Cleveland Wallace (transfer)
Players returning: Travell Dixon (RS-Sr), Marcus Peters (RS-Jr), Patrick Enewally (RS-Fr), Jermaine Kelly (RS-Fr)
Incoming players: Darren Gardnehire (Fr), Naijiel Hale (Fr), Sidney Jones (Fr), Brandon Lewis (Fr)
A Look Ahead:
In Peters the Huskies return one of the best corners in the conference - if not the best. That's a terrific position to build from for this group, but there are major question marks as the question isn't just who starts opposite of Peters, but who fills out this position group? As the chart above notes, there are just four returning players at the CB position for 2014, and only two of them have seen game action; this is a big reason why Chris Petersen signed four more corners for his inaugural class.
So a big question heading into Spring is who lines up for reps at the corner position. In Brandon Beaver and Kevin King, new DB coach Jimmy Lake has a couple more bodies he could opt to move over from safety depending on how the numbers work out there. Under Heyward, the lines between S and CB were somewhat blurred as he expected a great deal out of his safeties in terms of pass coverage to combat all the spread offenses the Huskies see every year. It wouldn't surprise me to see Lake take a similar tact and rotate some guys through multiple spots in the secondary.
With four new corners arriving in the Fall (along with three new safeties), this will be a critical time for Dixon to step up and show why he was so highly rated coming out of high school and why Alabama initially signed him; he's struggled so far and has only seen the field in garbage time, and given the praise heaped on Kelly on the scout squad, he could be buried again this year. This is also the chance for Kelly (and Enewally) to show their stuff and attempt to gain a strong grip on the other starting spot opposite of Peters heading into the Fall. Peters? His goal as much as anything else is to stay healthy and learn the new defense.
As always, Kirk hit on all the relevant observations going into the spring and the 2014 season with this CB class. It is highlighted by the one player that Pac 12 coaches would probably rate as the number one cover guy in the league in Marcus Peters (even if the media wants to fawn over Ifo Ekpre-Olomo and all those INTs he had in 2012), one of the highest regarded potential talents in the conference in Jermaine Kelly and a young CB in Patrick Enewally who is only on the roster thanks to a last-second flip by Keith Heyward before last season. Beyond that, things get fuzzy.
Travell Dixon is a possible missing link here. As the only Senior of the group, his ability to step into a 2nd or 3rd CB role and show some of the potential that made him an Alabama scholarship player would be a huge bonus for Jimmy Lake. I actually thought that Dixon showed good physical skills in his limited run last year. It seemed, more times than not, that his lack of confidence in what he was doing led to hesitation-style mistakes. Therein lies my hope for him - that he'll gain more confidence under Lake and play fast. His journey in the spring will be one of the more curious storylines of camp because it could end with him becoming a starter opposite of Peters or with him getting potentially buried under a true freshman who has to burn a redshirt.
Projecting out past the spring, I think it would be reasonable for two true frosh - maybe three - to show that they are ready to play in 2014. Naijiel Hale is almost a sure thing. I also think that you can consider Sidney Jones as a good candidate based on physical skills alone. Brandon Lewis is an interesting talent who may well eventually prove to be the best CB out of this class, but he may need a redshirt year to get his body right following an injury-plagued high school career. In all, I like this class to provide much-needed depth, but I'll be concerned if any of these guys, none of whom are early enrolling, become expected to beat out any of the returning guys coming out of spring.
Inheriting a player like Marcus Peters and one of the top cornerback recruits on the west coast coming off a redshirt season are great luxuries for an incoming coach. While it's not a given that Kelly wins the starting job opposite Peters, the early reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, and unless he simply clashes with the new coaches or was simply a product of the hype machine of the past staff, he seems to be the heir apparent.
I lack Chris' confidence that the light suddenly turns on for Dixon this season, unless he's a guy that just didn't mesh with his previous coaches. It just seems like he was so far away from seeing meaningful action as a redshirt junior. I hope to be proven wrong, but I think the future is now, and that some combination of Kelly, Enewally, King, Beaver, or an incoming freshman(men) fill out the two-deeps in 2014, although I hope all of the freshmen can redshirt. Maybe Dixon is a safety....
Marcus Peters should enter the season with All-American mention. His first two seasons at Washington have been as good as any Husky corner that I can remember. He's effectively shut down half the field with little help, and largely playing a very aggressive style. I think the coaches are going to be able to find another guy as capable as Gregory Ducre was in 2013, and that the corners will once again be instrumental in Washington fielding a highly capable pass defense.