I checked in with UW safeties coach Jeff Mills after practice on Tuesday to get a few early thoughts on his position.
That group includes two incoming freshmen — James Sample and Travis Feeney.
Sample, one of the more heralded members of the Class of 2011 — having played in the U.S. Army All-American Game, among numerous honors — is beginning his career at strong safety. Feeney, also listed as a linebacker on the UW roster, is beginning his career at free.
Don’t be surprised, however, to see them at the other spot for a few plays if you stop by a practice during camp.
“I telll them that they are kind of mirror positions so they have to learn both,” Mills said. “So they will focus in on a certain position like strong or free but continue to be able to do both. The techniques of the positions are similar.”
Here are impressions from Mills on each of them after two days of practice: “I like them. I think they are good, young prospects. Like anyone they are swimming right now, but they are learning the tempo and learning the terminology, really it’s like a foreign language when you start off in college football with what we are teaching them. So right now it’s just that thinking and then reacting stage. But when you see them run athletically they’ve got a lot of great ability. And they are really good kids, they are wanting to learn and they are smart guys. You’ve got to be smart to be able to play this game.”
Coaches don’t rule out that the 6-4, 203-pound Feeney could eventually morph into a linebacker. But said Mills: “Safety is what he played in high school. He’s got a big frame, so you just don’t know (what the future holds). But right now he is doing a nice job back there. He really covers ground, he’s got really good range. He takes like three steps and he’s there. So I like that in a safety.” (And range might be expected of a player also taken last June in the MLB Draft by the Oakland A’s).
As for the 6-2, 191-pound Sample, Mills said: “Tough kid, comes from a great program, loves football. He’s a guy who rode the bus up here to last year’s camp to get here. So they are into it. First impressions, I really like him.”
As for the veterans, Nate Fellner is entrenched as the starter at free safety and Sean Parker has worked as the starter at strong safety the first two days (and recall that Taz Stevenson is still out with an injury as is Evan Zeger).
“Sean, he is now full speed going and Fellner is doing a nice job in his third year. It’s nice because he’s understanding the whole defense a lot better than he did. I’ve been real pleased the first two days with those two starters,” Mills said.
As for the rest of the group, Mills said: “Greg Walker is a veteran guy, knows both positions, really knows the defense. Justin Glenn, happy to see him coming back. I think he had a real positive spring, and he’s started off good the first two days. Will (Shamburger) is doing a nice job running around. One of the nice things is that we’ve got a lot of depth. Competition makes you better, got good competition going against each other but within the group they are all trying to make each other better. And I think I’ve seen more maturity in this group in guys trying to help each other out in meetings and in sidelines. So I really like the chemistry of this group right now.”