Defensive Newcomers to Watch: No. 2

Today on Dawgman.com we continue our series where Chris Fetters and Scott Eklund take a look at some of top returning underclassmen that are currently in line to see a lot of playing time this fall. Next on the defensive side of the ball are a couple of cornerbacks who have a chance to show what they can do this fall.

Tre Watson had a great spring and has earned raves from teammates this summer. Marcus Peters was a highly-rated prospect who is set to show Husky fans his game. Who is going to break through?
Scouting Report - Watson is not the biggest cornerback UW has, but he won't shy away from contact; he was an All-State running back at Kennedy High School in Burien, so being physical is second-nature to the 5-foot-10, 180-pound CWU transfer. Watson also has a nice feel for the game, as noted by Steve Sarkisian this spring when talking about Watson's transfer year in 2011 working on the service team. Watson is not going to have the blazing speed of an Desmond Trufant, Greg Ducre or Adam Long and he's not going to wow you with his body and pure physical attributes, but in the box and within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage he can handle himself just as well as those guys because of his aggressiveness, toughness and competitiveness. In short, Watson is just a good football player with the instincts to make plays. The reason he's gotten into this conversation is because of his IQ, ethic and 'want to'.

Peters, a redshirt frosh from McClymonds High in Oakland, is more of what you'd expect in a prototypical Pac-12 cornerback. In terms of the 'look test', when you look at the cornerbacks going through a drill Peters belongs. He's a taller, quicker, rangier athlete than Watson at 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds, and he's got the speed to track receivers and also the ball skills to challenge bigger receivers like Kasen Williams that pride themselves on getting to the high point. Peters has all the raw athleticism in the world; now it's time to soak up the coaching handed down by Keith Heyward and Donte Williams to reach his potential. He's not short of confidence either; when receivers like Kevin Smith tried to exchange some friendly smack talk during spring, Peters was right there giving as good as he got.
Where they fit - Just like Peter Sirmon and the linebackers, Keith Heyward is asking his corners to learn all the positions; defending out on an island, defending the slot, playing the nickel, dime, penny and other coverages as a defensive back. So versatility is essential when showing you can be a part of the starting 11 in Washington's base defense. In my opinion Watson plays better in confined spaces, so I think he would excel as a boundary cornerback, a guy that shouldn't necessarily take chances out wide but can body up receivers a little more and use the sideline as an extra defender. If he played on the field side, you'd like to see a safety over the top to give Watson some more confidence that he can play nice and snug on the receiver out wide in the hopes he can jump a route or be in a position to defend the pass properly. Either way, Watson's intelligent play and competitiveness are assets that could be utilized in a number of down-and-distance situations.

Other things to consider are Watson's age, experience level and also the level of comfort the coaches have with him out on the field. It's clear Tre plays confident, but it's not just swagger. As long as he continues to show that he knows what he's doing, quickly picks up the concepts the coaches are dishing out and can make the needed adjustments on the fly, their trust in him to be where he needs to be play after play goes up exponentially.

Conversely for Peters, because of his relative youth and experience - to start with I'd try and keep his plate as clean as possible, making sure he's completely assignment-sound. Athletically he could play anywhere the coaches require, but keeping things simple for him to start means he might draw very specific down-and-distance responsibilities (nickel in third-and-long, cover the X or Z in a quick passing spread attack, etc…).

Either way, it's going to be tough sledding for new cornerbacks to make their move. For the first time in what seems like a while, Washington has some quality and quantity. There's Trufant, Ducre, Peters, Watson, Long and Anthony Gobern to start, and then you have incoming freshmen Brandon Beaver and Cleveland Wallace too. That's eight cornerbacks for 3-4 spots on the field at most in any given down-and-distance situation. Add to that the fact that the early returns on Beaver, the 6-foot, 175-pounder from Dominguez High in Compton, Calif., seem to indicate the Army All-American to be as advertised, and that just adds to the difficulty of finding a niche in this group - let alone one that ensures lots of playing time.
Why this is the year to make their mark - For Watson, the answer is easy; like Josh Banks he's a transfer that only has two years left to fulfill his dreams. The time is now for him to step up and utilize the experience learned at the junior college and the Division II level. It's also important for Watson to capitalize on the strong spring he had to keep his name fresh in the minds of all the defensive coaches. Typically if you're not moving up the charts you're sliding - so Watson needs to continue his upward surge. If he does, he'll find his way on the field this fall.

There's no time like the present for Peters to immediately put his stamp on the cornerbacks group not just for playing time this fall but for years down the road. Now that Washington is getting to the point in recruiting where they are building quality depth, you wouldn't normally expect a player of Peters' ability to show up consistently until at least their second or third year in the program - especially assuming that there's quality upperclassmen also pushing for major minutes. That's starting to happen with this group, and the inclusion of Beaver and Wallace this fall is just going to add to the competitive mix.

If Marcus can show he's ready now to be a significant contributor that just makes it that much easier for him to take that next step in his development, earn the trust of the coaches and solidify his position as a leader for the secondary and the entire defense for 2013 and beyond. Is it vital for Peters to be 'the man' in 2012? Not necessarily, but he's going to need to show something to give the coaches hope that he's on his way to being 'the man' for seasons to come.


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