Choosing a Husky Starting Lineup: Strong Safety is Only for the Strong

The University of Washington has no fiercer position competition than in the back row with multiple returning starters, promising newcomers and even a guy who started in the Rose Bowl.
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Jimmy Lake warned that some of his freshmen, in particular defensive backs, might come in and take jobs away from veterans.

Safety seemed like a target area.

One job was open, vacated by the graduated Myles Bryant.

The other was shared in 2019, by true freshmen Cam Williams and Asa Turner. 

Let the competition begin, Lake declared.

Well, a week from the moment of truth — the Husky opener at California in eight days — it appears one guy has set him self apart from all that talent.

His hair is a little longer.

His weight is a little heavier.

He appears to be a lot savvier. 

He's intercepted more passes in camp than anyone else who's supposed to pull big minutes. 

As we continue to pick and adjust a Husky starting lineup, it's time to zero in on strong safety, a position that has produced a lot of interesting characters along the way.

Jaime Fields once played there before becoming a linebacker.

So did Ricky Andrews.

Kevin King tried it before becoming a cornerback.

Even UW defensive-line coach Ikaika Malloe played there.

Following is the next man up.

See if you agree. 

SS candidates: Asa Turner, 6-foot-3, 200 pounds, sophomore; Cam Williams, 6-0, 190, sophomore; Dom Hampton, 6-2, 220, sophomore; Makell Esteen, 6-1, 180, freshman; Brandon McKinney 6-0, 200, senior. 

Starting experience: Williams, 7 starts; Turner, 5 starts; McKinney, 1 start. 

Our selection: Turner. He gave way to Williams to begin the 2019 season, got his shot and made enough mistakes to give the job back to Williams by the end the year. Turner is credited with working extra hard to build up his body for contact and better study his coverage responsibilities. He's been singled out by the coaching staff for taking the next step, intercepting three passes in one practice. Now he's just got to show it in the coming seven-game season. 

Other SS options: Williams. He's a reliable guy. After all, he was a seven-game starter as a true freshman. He's just in a fierce competition to win his job back. Whether or not he can fend off Turner as the starter, he'll play a lot. Hampton is a wild card, adding 15 pounds to his frame, which alone seems to signify him playing at safety rather than cornerback. Esteen is one of those young guys projected for stardom. McKinney? All he did was start a Rose Bowl against Ohio State.  

Greatest Husky SS: Tommie Smith. This guy was so good he came to Washington as an elite running back. In order to get on the field as fast as he could, he shifted to strong safety and, on his second collegiate play, he blocked a punt at USC and returned it for a touchdown. In around an occasional suspension or job loss for skipping class, he started 27 games, including the 1991 national championship season.

Other SS legends: Jimmy Rodgers, captain and starter on the 1985 Orange Bowl team; Greg Grimes, 29-game starter, including the 1978 Rose Bowl; Eric Briscoe, 27-game starter, including the 1991 Rose Bowl; C.J. Wallace, 29-game starter; Vince Albritton, 21-game starter and eight-year NFL player. 

The UW Starting Lineup:

Left tackle — Jaxson Kirkland

Left guard — Ulumoo Ale

Center — Luke Wattenberg

Right guard — Henry Bainivalu

Right tackle — Victor Curne

Tight end — Cade Otton

Tight end — Devin Culp

Wide receiver — Puka Nacua

Wide receiver — Ty Jones

Running back — Richard Newton

Quarterback — Kevin Thomson

Kicker — Peyton Henry

Punter

Outside linebacker — Laiatu Latu

Defensive tackle — Tuli Letuligasenoa

Defensive tackle — Josiah Bronson

Outside linebacker — Sav'ell Smalls

Inside linebacker — Edefuan Ulofoshio

Inside linebacker — Jackson Sirmon

Cornerback — Kyler Gordon

Cornerback — Trent McDuffie

Nickel back — Elijah Molden

Strong safety — Asa Turner 

Free safety — Julius Irvin

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