Post-Spring Review: Cornerbacks

It was a big theme of spring football at Washington; depth, injuries, and the players coming into roles of their own for the Huskies. Those thoughts were magnified at the cornerback position, which was a bit of an ironic twist because UW has arguably two of the best cornerbacks in the Pac-12 right now in Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson.

Trufant and Richardson locked down their respective spots for the entire 2010 season, starting every single game. It's the first time both corners have started together for an entire season for Washington since Jermaine Smith and Mel Miller accomplished the same feat in 1997.

On top of that, their backups - sophomore Adam Long and true freshman Gregory Ducre - played in all 13 games too. Long started six games in 2009, considered one of the fastest players on the team. Despite depth concerns and injuries at a lot of other positions, the cornerback position group was one Steve Sarkisian and his staff did not have to worry about last year. That group was as solid and as dependable as any CB group at Washington in a long time.

But then came the bad news; Long tore his ACL in an off-season conditioning workout, and Ducre had to have off-season surgery to repair a shoulder. In a heartbeat the cornerback group went from a UW strength to a potential problem spot. Now Ducre will return this fall fully healthy after going through spring without contact, but Long's return is unknown at this time. It's doubtful he'll be ready to go by the time September 3rd comes around, so the Huskies will have to look to other places to find some relief for their starters.

There's nothing to suggest, however, that Trufant, a junior, and Richardson, a senior, can't go through 2011 unscathed. After all, they have shown tremendous resiliency: The 6-foot, 177-pound Trufant has started the Huskies' last 22 games, and Richardson, a 6-foot, 200-pounder from Seattle has started in 30 of the 37 games Washington has played the past three seasons.

Desmond Trufant has been the Steady Eddie the Huskies have needed at cornerback since the graduation of Roy Lewis, and before him, Derrick Johnson. Trufant's bloodlines run deep, as his oldest brother Marcus starred at Washington State before doing the same with the Seattle Seahawks; the middle brother Isaiah was a standout at Eastern Washington. Now it's up to Desmond to push the family name to greater heights, and he's preparing himself to do just that.

Trufant came on like gangbusters his first year at Montlake, earning a few post-season freshman All-Pac-10 accolades, and they were well-deserved. He had a fumble return at Notre Dame, as well as a game-securing interception in a wild finish against Arizona at Husky Stadium. He couldn't have asked for a better introduction to college football. 2010 was more of a struggle for Trufant, but there's no question he's as rock-solid a defender the Huskies have when it comes to having the coaches' trust and understanding of what they want to get accomplished. Now it's just a matter of Desmond playing the game instead of reading and reacting, something that Marcus was able to do really well as his career progressed on the Palouse. By the end of his time in Pullman, the oldest Trufant brother was turning receivers inside-out, and expect Desmond to do the same.

Richardson, on the other hand, revolutionized his game after being anointed in 2008 the next big thing by UW Corners Coach at the time, J.D. Williams. Quinton had played safety for Monte Kohler at O'Dea, and that's what he was expected to play at Washington, but Williams saw a big, physical cornerback instead. Richardson's redshirt freshman season was a tough learning experience. He started 11 of 12 games in 2008, and of course the Huskies lost all those games.

2009, even though it produced some wins for Washington, wasn't all that much better for Richardson, who played like he was in a bit of a fog. While the crazy 36-33 win over Arizona was sealed by Trufant's last-minute interception, it was his teammate that was languishing, eventually losing his starting role to Long the next week against Arizona State. It was hard to tell exactly what was going on, but things began to come into focus after the demotion.

Last season looked like a bit of an improvement, but when it was revealed that Richardson's son Quinton, Jr. had come into the world mid-way through the campaign, that proved to be a real impetus. Washington's current Cornerbacks Coach, Demetrice Martin, saw everything come together for his embattled junior - his life on the field, as well as off of it. And by the Oregon game, Richardson fully had his act together.

The Huskies lost that game, 53-16, but Richardson was exemplary; he accounted for four tackles - including a tackle for loss - and a forced fumble. The next game, against UCLA, he scored on a 28-yard pick-six. At California, Richardson had three more tackles and another interception. In the Apple Cup, he came up with five tackles, including another TFL. In those final five games, Richardson grew into the player J.D. Williams envisioned three years ago.

At Washington's post-season banquet, it was fitting that Richardson was one of two Huskies to receive the inaugural Don James Perseverance Award. He endured a lot in getting back to his starting position, and now he's armed with the physical and mental attributes necessary to take that next big jump forward toward possibly becoming a coveted corner in the NFL. The prize is in front of Richardson, and he sees it clearly. For him, there's everything to play for in 2011, especially with thoughts of his young family driving him on.

While Trufant and Richardson work toward being the top corner tandem in the newly-formed Pac-12, the rest of us are left to ponder - what's behind them? Former starter Long and blossoming sophomore Ducre were expected to be the easy answer to that question after Washington's 19-7 win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl, but now it's not that clear-cut.

With Long out and Ducre sitting out the contact portions of spring, that left two program veterans - Anthony Gobern and Marquis Persley - with the job of shoring up depth. Believe it or not, they were up to the task. Both players have led somewhat of a nomadic existence within Washington's secondary corps, moving around the various positions and not ever really finding a home they could call their own - until a month ago.

Gobern, originally a member of the 2008 recruiting class, delayed his enrollment to Washington after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury during fall camp. Since returning the following season, Gobern has been mired in mediocrity, never really doing much as a defender. He has played in 16 games his first two seasons at Washington, all on special teams.

This spring was Gobern's first real break into the cornerback depth, and he jumped on his chance. The 5-foot-11, 189-pounder looked comfortable out on an island, and his speed has never been in question. And when the UW coaches wanted to give Trufant and Richardson some rest, Gobern played against the one offense and looked comfortable.

The same can be said for Persley, who has never truly found a consistent role during his five years at Washington. That's not how it's always been for the 6-foot, 188-pound Persley, who prepped at the same high school program that produced Chris Polk and Andrew Hudson - Redlands East Valley. In 2008, he played in all 12 games, mostly on special teams, but he did rack up a few tackles. Since that point, it's been two years of nothing but service team action - until now.

It's hard to truly say that 15 positive spring practices is going to be the difference between using players like Gobern and Persley, considering they don't have a college start between them. So the only real difference between those two, and say, an incoming junior college star like Antavius Sims, is work within the scheme.

Sims, who was a standout quarterback at Ventura College in California, but the Huskies see him as an athletic cornerback who can make game-changing, offensive-minded plays from the back third. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Sims would bring imposing size to the position, as well as legitimate 4.4 speed. And because of his offensive background, Sims could also be featured as a two-way threat. Wild Dawg, anyone?

The other incoming player that could make the ascension of Gobern and Persley a foregone conclusion is true freshman Marcus Peters. It's always difficult to gauge excitement level from coaches once signing day has come and gone, but I got the feeling the Washington coaches were especially happy to get Peters, a 6-foot, 179-pound athlete from McClymonds High in Oakland, in the fold. Washington beat out Arizona, Arizona State, Boise State, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, San Diego State, Utah, and Washington State to secure his services, and he has told anyone within earshot that he would love a chance to show what he can do as soon as he steps on campus.

Depending on the health of players like Long, as well as the continued corner maturation of players like Gobern and Persley, Peters' time in the sun may shine earlier than expected. And regardless of who plays behind them, I'm sure Trufant and Richardson will be mentoring the group as soon as possible to bring them up to speed. Because if anyone has earned the right to lead from the front, it's those two.

Quinton Richardson (Sr.)
Gregory Ducre (So.)
Adam Long (Jr.)

Desmond Trufant (Jr.)
Anthony Gobern (Jr.)
Marquis Persley (Sr.) Top Stories