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Washington Spring Preview 2014: Safeties

Our position previews for the Washington Huskies as they head towards Spring Practices continues - up next, the safeties. With no returning starters and the top three players gone to graduation, this is a group that is wide open.

Trevor Walker (R) has a leg-up on a starting safety position
Trevor Walker (R) has a leg-up on a starting safety position
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

2013 Review:

It sure doesn't seem that long ago when 4-star recruit Sean Parker announced live on ESPNU on Signing Day 2010 that he was picking Washington over USC and Michigan. Time flies, and Parker - a 4-year starter who was too good to redshirt - has exhausted his eligibility with the Huskies. He anchored what became a really strong secondary over the past couple of years, and his big-hitting and timely interceptions helped set the tone. A two-year team captain, he was also an Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 over the last two years.

Fellow senior Will Shamburger locked down the other spot, holding off challenges from freshmen Trevor Walker and Kevin King and was quietly effective in the free safety role. Tre Watson was moved from CB, though his role was primarily as the first extra DB off the bench when the defense went to a 4-2-5 look. When injury knocked Shamburger out vs. Colorado & UCLA, King stepped in, though he himself ended up missing the last two games of the season due to injury.

What we said heading into the season:

Heading into camp, we knew that one spot was locked up with Sean Parker returning for his final year. The other spot however was up for grabs with the graduation of Justin Glenn. So far, it appears that Sr. Will Shamburger has held off the challengers to claim the other starting spot. Keep an eye on this position though - there are some youngsters on the roster that could challenge his starting spot as the season progresses and they gain more experience.

2013 Statistics:

  • Pass defense: 107.5 passer rating allowed (10th nationally); 55.0% completions (24th nationally); 5.8 ypa (tied 7th nationally)
  • Kevin King: 1 pass-breakup/1 pass defensed; 17 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
  • Trevor Walker: 6 tackles

Scholarship Players:

Players lost: Sean Parker (graduated), Will Shamburger (graduated), Taz Stevenson (graduated), Tre Watson (graduated)

Players returning: Brandon Beaver (RS-So), Kevin King (So), Trevor Walker (So)

Incoming players: Budda Baker (Fr), JoJo McIntosh (Fr), Lavon Washington (Fr)

A Look Ahead:

Kirk DeGrasse:

With the top three players on the depth chart gone to graduation, this position is as wide-open as any on the team and one of the few major question marks heading into the 2014 season. And with only three returning scholarship players, it's a position in dire need of numbers - hence the signing of three safeties for the 2014 class. And while it seems a near-certainty that one (or more) from that group will see the field this year - and perhaps earn a starting job - none of them arrive until the Fall. In the meantime, there will be plenty of reps to be had by the returning youngsters.

Beaver was a highly-touted CB prospect when recruited, but was moved over to safety during his redshirt year. Keith Heyward put a premium on coverage skills to combat the variety of spread offenses the Huskies face, and in Beaver he had a player with enough size for safety who also provided strong coverage skills. Still, he found himself passed-by on the depth chart by a pair of true freshmen in King and Walker. Walker was an early-entry and pushed Shamburger for the starting position, but he himself ended up falling behind fellow frosh King on the depth. King is a taller, lanky kid that was thought to be a CB prospect when recruited but shifted to safety in Fall camp. Despite his lean frame, he showed enough playmaking skill that he avoided taking a redshirt year, though he was unable to stay healthy for the entire season.

Given the new coaching staff, you have to think that position switches could be on tap - it shouldn't surprise anyone if some of the players listed at CB under the prior staff find themselves getting reps at safety now (Travell Dixon and Patrick Enewally in particular). It's even possible that Shaq Thompson plays a more traditional SS role rather than the Rover/LB "Nickel" position he's been playing.

Bottom line, the young kids will need to step up and get a strong foothold on the two open jobs, because come Fall the new arrivals will be nipping at their heels, and it won't surprise anyone if uber-recruit Baker ends up earning a starting job.

Chris Landon:

I've been avoiding this write-up since we started planning the spring preview series. The somewhat unorthodox approach to managing the defensive secondary by Justin Wilcox and co created a lot of position switches in and out of the Safety position over the past two seasons. This has left the position group in a state of flux that makes the blogger in me cringe as I try to project what may happen this spring. I completely concur with Kirk in that there could - or likely will be - more position changes as the new staff untangles what the previous staff did before. They may be as benign as swapping Dixon in at S and moving Beaver back to CB or they may be as dramatic as shifting Shaq or Travis Feeney back to their original strong safety position. I'm not even 100% sure that the staff has elected to move Kendyl Taylor back to offense. Who knows?

Regardless, the position opens camp as the most unsettled of all position groups - including QB. As it stands right now, Husky fans ought to be concerned about how things are going to shake out in light of all the uncertainties. The evidence at hand - and, mind you, none of us regularly attended practices in 2013 - would suggest that nobody among the incumbents has demonstrated an ability to take the opportunity by the horns and contribute at a high level. For a defense that wants to attack and needs to blitz in order to create a regular pass rush, this is worrisome.

The good news is that Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake have lots of options available at their fingertips. The spring roster includes a number of talents who could produce at safety and the fall roster will add in at least one or two players who will be able to compete for time on the field starting on day one. In fact, if a guy like King or Walker don't seize the opportunity given to them in the next few weeks, look for Sean Parker to be succeeded by the next great 4-year Safety starter for Washington.

Brad Johnson:

As you guys both mention, there are a lot of moving parts with the safeties. New coaching staff with their own idea of how the secondary should look, and a lot of young S/LB or S/CB tweener types on the roster. Nobody really knows how the new coaches will evaluate any of these guys, but the good news is that there's a fair amount of athleticism on hand.

It's good news and bad news that a true sophomore has the most meaningful experience returning. Even with all of the hullabaloo surrounding the work Trevor Walker did in spring as an early enrollee, it was Kevin King that took the only real meaningful snaps of the backups. And I thought he mostly did well. But he had what seems to be that all too common shoulder injury that seems to plague guys that are forced in to action as true freshmen. I don't know much about his recovery, but as a guy that needs to add a fair bit of weight, it can't be helping this offseason. Still, it'd seem he has as good a shot as anyone to start this fall. But the competition is wide open, and I'm sure that a lot of guys are going to get looks.

If Dixon doesn't break into the rotation at cornerback, it wouldn't shock me if he got a look at safety. And it might be a good idea regardless, because as it stands right now, barring something like Thompson getting moved to the back end (which I really hope doesn't happen), the Huskies are going to be very young and very small at safety. If the position is still in flux heading into the fall, Budda Baker could very well work himself into the mix.