Corners juggling numbers, responsibilities

Demetrice Martin calls it 'the belly of the beast'. It's that place where ideas of what reality should be differ from reality - especially on the football field. Ideally, Washington would have loved to redshirt cornerbacks like Desmond Trufant and Gregory Ducre - but the reality of the situation wouldn't let them. They were too good not to play.

But had the Huskies been properly fitted with depth and balance at the position, perhaps the question would have been moot.

There was a reason the first visit Nick Holt made when he was hired as Washington's Defensive Coordinator was to the house of Desmond Trufant. The brother of Seattle Seahawk Marcus Trufant, Desmond proved immediately why he was so highly coveted, winning the the Travis Spring Most Outstanding Freshman Award. In his second start - at Notre Dame - he had six tackles, including a tackle for loss, and a 17-yard touchdown fumble recovery. In the Huskies' improbable win over Arizona that season, he had a game-clinching 32-yard interception on a play where even UW play-by-play man Bob Rondeau was even telling the youngster from Wilson High in Tacoma to 'get down, son', because all he had to do was take a knee to secure the win.

But that was the beauty of Trufant's game when he first came to Montlake. He was a prodigy. His brothers - Marcus and Isaiah - had led the way for him, and now this was the expected result. Desmond was doing nothing extraordinary, in his eyes. He was just playing the game he always had, with speed, a sense of purpose, pure instinct and guile.

It was all coming together so quickly for him, especially considering he had to sit out some of fall camp due to a snafu with the NCAA Clearinghouse. And 2010 was supposed to be that natural progression from Year One to Year Two, the season that would put him firmly on the map as one of the top cover corners on the west coast.

But it didn't really happen for him. Tru was extremely competent as a sophomore, and it would be wrong to label 2010 as a 'sophomore slump', but things didn't progress as he would have hoped. Trufant only had one interception. He had 10 less solo tackles, despite starting all 13 games. He had less tackles for loss. For some reason, instead of being on top of the same plays as he had his first year, he was half a step behind. Instead of picking off passes, he was only able to bat them down.

Had he plateaued? Was Trufant a victim of his own success? Was this a regression toward the mean? It certainly wasn't beginner's luck.

"He wants to make every play, and that's almost close to impossible for a corner - because every play is not going to be intended for us to make," UW Corners Coach Demetrice Martin said. "When his opportunity came to make a play, it was like - should I go or should I not? So now he knows that out of 10 plays, if he makes six, he's doing pretty good."

Motivation has never been an issue for Trufant. It may have been at times for Quinton Richardson. Richardson has been where Trufant is right now. He started games when he was a true freshman, probably when he shouldn't have - but the belly of the beast said otherwise. It all appeared to be right in Richardson's grasp. At 6-feet tall and 200 pounds, Richardson has the size few corners in the Pac-10 can match. "He has the size and he has the tenacity," Martin said. "He's a big cover guy. There aren't too many players that size in the NFL playing that position."

But it wasn't coming together, for whatever reason. During the season, his son Quinton, Jr. was born. That's when things started to come together. "All three phases of his life weren't together before, but now it's been more steady for him where he can handle it, so that's made it easier for him," Martin said of Richardson. "If one was going bad, it would affect the other. But at the end of the season, he got all those things in order, and things took off for him. He's grown up a lot. He's trying to do the things it takes to get to the next level."

And that's what Martin is trying to get Richardson to find this spring - that extra impetus to compete every day like it's his last on the field. And Martin believes Q is right there. "Every day is a job interview," Martin said. "If you don't pass the job interview every day, you might not get the job the next day. And he's all in."

Ah, life. Job interviews. We tend to forget about players' social agendas, term papers and all the rest of the 'college experience' when it comes to what they do between the hedges. But sometimes it takes just that - a little outside motivation - or simply growing up, to get them to a space where things make sense for them again, to where they can play the game in a way that got them to a place like Washington to begin with.

Trufant is quickly getting to that same place.

"I just had to watch the film from last year, realize what I did wrong," he said. "I have to stop trying to do everything right, and just focus on trying to be perfect with my technique, and the plays will come to me. Instead of hesitating, just exploding out of my breaks…catching the ball, not hesitating at all…just going. That's all I have to fix, pretty much. Then I'll be making more plays."

Trufant even uses his time away from the field to stay sharp mentally and keep his competitive juices flowing. It does run in the family, after all.

"Sometimes we'll just play basketball, just work on defense," Trufant said of his time hanging out with his older brothers. Marcus, once a standout corner in his own right at Washington State, just finished up his eighth season with the Seahawks. Isaiah played defensive back at Eastern Washington, and signed on this past season to play with the Philadelphia Eagles.

"We're real competitive with each other. We just talk a lot. We play the game all the time. They teach me things, and they learn things from me as well.

"We are always butting heads - especially me and Marcus. We go at it. It's fun competing with them. They are great athletes. Isaiah, he's got skills. He can shoot. I kind of go to the rack. Marcus, he likes to play defense and facilitate things. He's Chris Paul. But I like going to the rim, seeing if they can body me."

Martin envisions a defensive backfield in 2011 where Trufant and Richardson are bigger leaders than before. "They are a lot more confident within the scheme, so it's easier for them to step in and be more vocal and that type of thing."

But right now, the hardest part about being a Washington cornerback this spring is taking a deep breath. Marquis Persley and Ken Egu have been moved over to help spell the four true corners playing - Trufant, Richardson, Ducre and Anthony Gobern. The loss of Adam Long to an off-season knee injury was a crusher, as he was beginning to show signs of his own transformation.

"We have to juggle guys," Martin said. "And when you're juggling guys, you're constantly watching guys - and when they go down and they're rolling around you kind of cringe every time. It's still all about being tough and being resilient, but it just puts a little extra onus on me to watch the guys and juggle them as far as reps and that sort of thing."

That really makes Trufant and Richardson precious commodities, despite their need to continually compete and improve. "They've played enough football to know how vital practice is for us," UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian said. "And that's the beauty of this schedule too, the way we go. They get a minimum of a day off between every practice to recoup and get their legs back. They want to be special. They want to be the best cornerback tandem in the Pac-10, and they are working towards that. I've respected their approach to spring so far, and I don't anticipate them changing."

"Like coach Sark always says, you're either getting better, or you're getting worse," added Trufant. "You never stay the same. So, I try and keep that in my head. You still have to compete and go hard every day, because if you're hesitant - that's when people get hurt. They get hurt when they slow down."

Martin sees a bright future in Ducre, who has been able to get a lot of work in the first week of spring despite off-season shoulder surgery. "He's been able to do everything," Martin said of the sophomore from Los Angeles. "He's got a lot of good change-of-direction, straight-line catch-up speed, and you can tell that he's confident in knowing his technique and the defense. He's going to be a great addition. He can run. He and Tru are the two fastest corners that can pick 'em up and put 'em down."

Therein lies the rub; Ducre is an immense talent, but just like Trufant and Richardson, he was thrown right into the fire his first day at UW. In an ideal world, Ducre would have been a redshirt candidate from the start. And with Long's injury, Martin may not have a choice to play incoming frosh Marcus Peters, even though a redshirt year has always been considered the prudent move.

"It's like, we wish we could have redshirted this guy or that guy, and we'd be light years better right now, but we had to throw them in and get some early experience," Martin said. "We're trying to build, trying to build, trying to build - but then we had to throw this guy in, we've got to use 'em.

"It's the belly of the beast." Top Stories