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Spring Position Breakdown: Secondary

New faces will try to shore up a leaky secondary.

Washington Spring Game Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

2022 Rewind

Everything comes at a cost. In Washington’s case, they had to sacrifice the secondary in exchange for an offense. That’s obviously not how it works, but that’s how it felt. Washington went from one of the best secondaries in the country, consistently putting out high round NFL draft picks, to last year’s unit which was exploited all season.

In an otherwise incredible first season of the Kalen DeBoer era, a lethal combination of injuries and losing talent to the NFL left Washington dead last nationally in passes defended per game. Not being able to keep two corners healthy on the field at the same time meant they simply had issues disrupting passes in key moments. Anyone watching the team last season could see far too often long touchdowns sailing over their heads.

While no one in particular stood out in pass coverage - if you’re looking for a bright spot - CB Mishael Powell continued to show strong open field tackling and physicality at one of the CB spots. S Dom Hampton tied with DT Tuli Letuligasenoa for passes defended, with four. Safeties Makell Esteen and Asa Turner tied the team lead with 2 interceptions a piece.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Kent State at Washington Photo by Jesse Beals/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


CB Jordan Perryman: An FCS All-American, there were high expectations for the former UC Davis star to make a big impact at Washington. Unfortunately he was injured in the first game of the season and wasn’t able to deliver on his athletic potential. Like most of the corners and safeties on the team, he spent the season never close to 100% healthy.

CB Zakhari Spears: A Jimmy Lake recruit, Spears arrived in the mold of a Jordan Miller or Keith Taylor - a long and physical corner who was raw but had high upside. After spending two seasons buried in the depth, he transferred to UConn.

S Alex Cook: Cook arrived at Washington as a wide receiver and spent two seasons there before moving to safety. This past season he led the team in solo tackles and provided the physical, in the box presence needed from the secondary. Like the rest of the unit, he struggled in coverage, but was arguably the best defensive back on the team.

S Cam Williams: Williams showed a ton of promise as a freshman, starting multiple games and nabbing a few interceptions. Many were calling for him to get more playing time this past year, but he took a voluntary redshirt when it was clear he wasn’t factoring into the coaches’ plans. For one reason or another, this coaching staff never viewed him as a future starter and he has since transferred.

CB/S Julius Irvin: Irvin was a highly ranked blue chip recruit who many were excited about when he signed with Washington. Unfortunately, he was never able to stay healthy and find any consistent playing time due to his injury history. Entering his 6th year in the program, he decided to medically retire.

New Arrivals

CB Jabbar Muhammad: Washington is bringing in 5 new corners, but none are more important than Muhammad. He was a starter, honorable mention All Big 12, and the highest PFF rated corner on Oklahoma State. He should immediately upgrade the unit if he starts. He’s been nicked up but has been practicing this spring.

CB Thaddeus Dixon: Dixon is an intriguing player from the junior college ranks. He’s 6-1 and 190 pounds, so he’ll bring a physical presence on the outside. He’s been running with the number two defense mostly in spring, but recently played with the ones due to some minor injuries ahead of him. His experience should be valuable.

CB Caleb Presley: The highest rated member of Washington’s 2023 recruiting class, Presely was a very sought after CB prospect. There’s certainly an opportunity for him to force his way onto the field with his talent.

CB Curly Reed: Before Presley committed, Reed was the highest ranked recruit in the 2023 class. The 4-star corner from Louisiana is in a similar mold to Dixon as a long and physical corner.

CB Leroy Bryant: Bryant didn’t have the recruiting acclaim of Reed or Presley, but he’s a player you should not be surprised is making an impact in 1-2 years. He started playing football very late but his development has been rapid in that short time.

Iowa State v Oklahoma State
This, but in purple and gold please.
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Storylines to Watch

1. Corner Shuffle

All five of the CB newcomers should have a chance to win a starting job. But what about returners Elijah Jackson, Jaivion Greene, Mishael Powell, and Davon Banks? Jackson played against Arizona State last season when everyone was injured and was not targeted one time. He then himself got hurt, but is currently healthy and playing with the starting unit this spring. Both Powell and Greene showed a lot of promise as physical players and strong tacklers, but took their lumps in coverage. Davon Banks showed some great athleticism and body control with his toe tapping sideline interception against ASU, but needs experience.

I think it’s safe to stay when you take an above average starter from another team, he is going to start. So, you can pencil in Muhammad at one corner spot. At the other corner spot, the leading candidate today might be Elijah Jackson. However, Dixon or one of the 4 star freshman could make a move. This should be considered the position on the team with the most playing time up for grabs.

2. Playing it Safe

Asa Turner returns and while his spot is certainly up for grabs, he should be considered the starter at the moment. Vincent Nunley looked in line for playing time last season before suffering a season ending injury early and should be a factor. Makell Esteen wasn’t on the field much last season but managed two interceptions. Tristan Dunn is a big player at 6-4 who the coaches seem to think has a future. Finding players who won’t be consistently beat over the top is a priority.

3. Position Changes

Dom Hampton is no stranger to changing positions. He arrived to UW as a CB, moved to safety, then nickel/husky, and now back to strong safety. Entering his 6th season in the program, hopefully he has finally found a home where this size, speed, and hitting ability can shine. Mishael Powell’s days at corner look to be limited as he’s getting run at the husky position, as well as safety. How all this shakes out will have a major impact on the performance of the overall defense next year.