We’re working our way back on defense as we finish up the pre-spring position reviews, today focusing on the secondary.
It’s another area that, if experience means anything — which it usually does in college football — could be much improved.
UW loses just one player who started in the secondary last year, though it’s a big one, strong safety Nate Williams, who was second on the team in tackles last year with 105.
This was one of the most stable areas for the Huskies a year ago, however, with all four starters starting all 13 games, and the other three return — cornerbacks Desmond Trufant (pictured above against UCLA in an AP photo) and Quinton Richardson and free safety Nate Fellner
While the coaches will say there is competition everywhere, those three would seem to have a pretty good hold on their spots heading into 2011, especially the corners, where depth is suddenly an issue.
Let’s break down each spot.
PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Quinton Richardson, 6-foot, 200, Sr.
Greg Ducre, 5-10, 170, So.
Desmond Trufant, 6-0, 177, Jr.
Anthony Gobern, 5-11, 189, Jr.
INJURED — Adam Long, 5-10, 168, Jr.
As noted above, Trufant and Richardson seem to have pretty strong holds on the starting spots here. The question is who backs them up? Ducre will be limited in the spring after having shoulder surgery and Long is out until at least the fall after suffering a knee injury during off-season conditioning — it’s unclear when he will return (and remember that he had some nice moments in spot duty in the Holiday Bowl, finishing with a game-high two pass breakups). So that leaves UW with just three scholarship cornerbacks for spring (unless someone is moved from another spot, which is always possible but nothing has been stated).
The depth situation will be better in the fall with the arrival of JC transfer Antavius Sims and highly-touted freshman Marcus Peters.
The depth issues in the spring, however, will open up an opportunity for Gobern, who has played sparingly so far but was a regular on special teams last year.
As for the projected starters, each seemed to get better as the season wore on after some early struggles, though the caveat is that UW played some pretty bad passing teams later in the year, as well (notably UCLA, Cal and Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl).
Statistically, UW seemed to do pretty well against the pass last year, ranking No. 27 in the country in pass defense, which is based solely on yards allowed (in UW’s case, 194.38 per game).
But look a little deeper into the numbers and it’s not quite as glittering. UW was 56th nationally in pass defense efficiency, which takes into account a broader number of stats including interceptions (UW had just 12) and completion percentage (60.17, sixth among Pac-10 teams).
The passing yards stat is also low because opponents threw the ball against UW less than they did against any other Pac-10 team (359 attempts) while running against UW more than against any other Pac-10 team (530). In terms of average, opponents tried 40.7 running plays per game last year against UW and just 27.6 passes, by far the widest margin in the Pac-10.
That’s in part because UW was easily run on in some games early in the year and also blown out a few times, when teams inevitably stopped throwing early in the game; because UW played a run-first team like Nebraska twice among four non-conference; and because some of the teams it played later in the year (notably UCLA and Cal) were pretty feeble throwing it.
While there seems no doubt the play in this area got better as the year went on, it’s worth noting that the only good passing team UW played in the last four games — WSU — was able to throw it pretty well when it wanted to as Jeff Tuel was 25-35 for 298 yards with the only interception coming on the last-gasp heave on the final play.
But Trufant and Richardson will each essentially be third-year starters now and continued improvement will be expected.
PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Nate Fellner, 6-1, 201, Jr.
Will Shamburger, 6-0, 190, So./or
Greg Walker, 5-10, 194, Jr.
Fellner and Shamburger entered last season as essentially co-starters at this spot. But Fellner took over ownership of it pretty quickly, and finished the year on an upswing with three interceptions in the last three games and a team-high five overall to finish tied for third in the Pac-10. And as he’d be the first to admit, he dropped two or three others earlier in the year that could have boosted that total greatly. But he showed an increasing ability for playmaking late in the year with highlight-reel interceptions against UCLA and Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
Shamburger will likely be the main backup here along with Walker, a special teams standout, though it’s not uncommon to see guys play at both safety spots, so you could see some of those listed below get looks here, as well.
PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Sean Parker, 5-10, 200, So.
Taz Stevenson, 6-0, 198, So./or
Justin Glenn, 5-11, 203, Jr.
Marquis Persley, 6-foot, 188, Sr.
Here’s the big question mark of the secondary as Williams departs after starting here for essentially the last three years.
Parker is the obvious heir apparent but has to show he’s 100 percent after missing the last four games with a stinger. He could be limited at times as the team will want to make sure he gets through the spring healthy. Stevenson will also be limited in the spring after having off-season shoulder surgery, which could open the door for veterans Glenn and Persley to get in the mix here. Glenn is the more obvious candidate after being a starter early in the 2009 season before suffering a broken leg against Notre Dame. He was a reserve and special teams player last year.
UW will also have some reinforcements coming in the fall, notably highly-touted James Sample of Sacramento.
Taken together, the secondary — as is the case with a few other spots on the team — appears to have a better blend of returning experience and young talent than it has had in a while, so continued improvement for the group as a whole seems more than realistic to expect.