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Spring Position Preview: Defensive Backs

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The defensive back position was hardest hit by the NFL draft this year. What’s in store for the unit this spring?

NCAA Football: Washington at Stanford Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday Max recapped the linebackers. Today, we examine the secondary heading into spring practice.

2021 Recap

An annual tradition, the Husky secondary was the strongest unit on the team last year. This was largely due to the lockdown duo of CBs Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon, who are both expected to be drafted in the first two rounds of the upcoming NFL Draft. While the front seven struggled getting pressure and stopping the run, the secondary could be relied upon. Bookie Radley-Hiles - the transfer from Oklahoma - gave the Huskies another athletic playmaker in the backend. Former walk-on Mishael Powell earned a well deserved scholarship and looked the part in his limited opportunities behind McDuffie and Gordon.

While the corners and nickels were mostly excellent, the safeties had a tougher time. There was a rotating cast of Alex Cook, Asa Turner, Cam Williams, Juluis Irvin, Dom Hampton, and Kamren Fabiculanan, none of whom quite took hold of a starting spot. Cook was the highlight of the group, showing good physicality and was tied for fourth on the team with 46 tackles. Dom Hampton showed glimpses of his what his scary combination of size and speed can do, but had some mistakes that had him spending more time on the sidelines than he probably wanted.

NCAA Football: Montana at Washington Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Roster Additions/Subtractions

SUBTRACTIONS

Trent McDuffie - NFL Draft

A three year starter from his freshman year, McDuffie followed the Budda Baker formula: show up to fall camp as a freshman, secure a starting spot, and be arguably the best player on the team for three years before going pro. He will be missed.

Kyler Gordon - NFL Draft

It took Gordon a couple seasons for his cover skills to match his athleticism, but when it did, he showed just how good he can be. Against Cal, he helped secure the win with his first two interceptions of his career, including a beautiful sideline toe-tapper.

Bookie Radley-Hiles - NFL Draft

The former 5-star recruit who transferred in from Oklahoma didn’t quite have the impact many fans expected, but he still turned in a very solid year from the nickel position. He was tied for fourth on the team with 46 tackles, and also contributed 2 sacks, 4 passes defended, and 1 interception.

ADDITIONS

Jordan Perryman - FCS transfer from UC Davis

The coaches knew cornerback depth would be needed this year and brought in a highly athletic player to try and mitigate the loss of Gordon and McDuffie. He’ll have just one season to make an impact for the Huskies, but the former FCS All-American should at the very least raise the floor for the defensive backs.

Tristan Dunn - Incoming freshman

The Sumner, WA product was not a player the past coaching staffs recruited or offered, and was a longtime Arizona State commit. But once Kalen DeBoer and his staff arrived, they offered him and a day later he gave a verbal commitment. The 6-4 safety brings not only size, but also big hitting ability. While there is significant experience in the safety ranks, there will be ample opportunity for him start if he picks things up quickly.

Jaivion Green - Incoming freshman

Green was an under-the-radar pick up for the Dawgs, with just a handful of Ivy League and FCS offers. He’s a versatile player who could develop into a starter, but is unlikely to make much an impact his first season as he’s a strong candidate to redshirt.

NCAA Football: Washington State at Washington Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

Spring Storylines to Watch

What is the Husky/nickel position going to look like?

Safeties coach Chuck Morrell named Dom Hampton and Kam Fabiculanan as two players who could secure a starting role for the “husky” position, which is similar to playing nickel. “It’s an absolute key, key role for us in the system” said Morrell. Dom Hampton has a tantalizing combination of speed and size, and began to show some flashes of his potential last season. If he can pick up the responsibilities of a new role and play with a little more control, his impact could be immense.

Will we get any answers at safety?

There are plenty of bodies and experience, but it’s hard to project who will start. It’s safe to say it’s a wide open competition at this point. The safeties in recent seasons have struggled to contribute in run support but have been strong keeping offenses in front of them and limiting big plays. Tristan Dunn is the only new player (unless someone like Dom Hampton gets moved to safety) so this spring will be all about which players can pick up the new system and show they’ve improved.

Which new faces step up?

Is it Jacobe Covington’s time to shine? He was a highly rated high school prospect and projects as a big, physical corner, who could also play some safety. Then there are players like Zakhari Spears and Elijah Jackson who bring serious length when matching up with wide receivers. While I project the CB starters to be Perryman and Powell, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Covington secure a starting spot over a former walk-on and an FCS transfer. Dyson McCutcheon brings a high football IQ and athleticism to the picture, even if he is a little undersized.

Projected Depth Chart

Cornerback

Starters: Mishael Powell, Jordan Perryman

First off the bench: Jacobe Covington, Zakhari Spears, Elijah Jackson

Depth: Dyson McCutcheon, Davon Banks, Jaivion Green

Safety

Starters: Asa Turner, Alex Cook

First off the bench: Cam Williams, Julius Irvin, Tristan Dunn

Depth: Makell Esteen, Vincent Nunley