After Dues-Paying Season, UW Secondary Is Ready to Flourish

The Huskies have a new defensive backs coach in Will Harris, but everyone else is an old hand. Expectations are high for this group.
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Cam Williams, Asa Turner, Kyler Gordon and Trent McDuffie joined the University of Washington secondary last season at various times as starters.

They were freshmen or redshirt freshmen, new players with plenty of promise.

The tradeoff, however, was these young guys -- no matter how many recruiting stars they had next to their names -- were going to make mistakes, plenty of mistakes.

Williams and Gordon began the college football season as first-teamers and played themselves out of it, before regaining spot starts at the end. 

McDuffie and Turner were reserves at the outset and worked their way into the starting lineup, with Turner on the bench again when the season ended.

"The experience of getting thrown out there as true freshmen, you're going to take take your lumps and bruises," new UW secondary coach Will Harris said.

The payoff, of course, comes in the second year and thereafter once all of these defensive backs have had a taste of the action, learned their trade and put on muscle.

Harris, who took over once Jimmy Lake was promoted to Huskies head coach in the offseason, is entrusted with putting together a first-rate secondary that people have come to expect. 

One full of pro prospects. One with lockdown coverage. One that's a team strength.

"Jimmy obviously started a factory -- it's DBU," Harris said. "Guys are locked into getting better every day."

Sports Illustrated, in a recent study of the schools that produce the most NFL talent at each position area, designated Washington as one of the leaders over the past decade for supplying defensive backs. The Huskies ranked No. 7 among all schools.

Former UW strong safety Jimmy Rodgers, a team co-captain for "the Purple Reign defense" that carried the Huskies to the Orange Bowl, felt the new safeties were undersized and not physical enough in 2019. 

Rodgers, shown in the video, will be happy to learn that Williams, who started seven games at free safety in his debut season, has added 15 pounds. Turner, who opened five games as a replacement for Williams, has packed on 12 pounds.

The Huskies return all three starting cornerbacks in seniors Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor, and McDuffie. They could use Williams and Turner at matching safeties rather than stacked in one position.

Gordon, a three-game starter and the most athletic of all UW defensive backs, will push for one of the cornerback jobs, having worked out his technique issues, according to Harris.

Julius Irvin, a sophomore who's played sparingly and son of a former NFL headliner, has recovered from a knee injury that slowed him for a good part of last season. He'll compete for a starting job at safety or nickel back.

Brandon McKinney, a senior who started the 2019 Rose Bowl against Ohio State, will compete for a safety job, as will Alex Cook, a junior and a converted wide receiver. 

Of the newcomers, Makell Esteen will be in the mix at safety after intercepting 23 passes over his past three schoolboy seasons, and Elijah Jackson will join the cornerback candidates, though he's played the position for just one season.

The prize player in this group of incoming freshmen is Jacobe Covington, who's talented enough to play any defensive position short of getting into a stance. 

"We can play him all over the back end -- safety, corner, nickel, linebacker," Harris said. "We're talking about starting him at corner and see where he lands."

For this overall group of experienced Husky DBs, mistakes should be minimal and excellence always a possibility.