Defensive Newcomers to Watch: No. 1

Today on we finish 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 pair of safeties that could eventually be named in the pantheon of great DB duos. Milloy and Parrish? Rodgers and Peoples? Smith and Pahukoa? We'll see.

With Nate Fellner, Taz Stevenson and Evan Zeger moving down to linebacker during spring practice, that pushed James Sample and Travis Feeney a lot closer to significant playing time in 2012. But Sean Parker, Justin Glenn, Will Shamburger and Shaquille Thompson will certainly have something to say about that.
Scouting Report - Both Sample and Feeney were in red for spring while they brought back ailing shoulders to life. Sample played in two games for the Huskies last year, but injury forced him to miss the majority of the season, allowing him to get his redshirt year back. Sample, a 6-foot-2, 202-pounder, is built more like a strong safety. Scott Kennedy, Director of Scouting for, had this to say about Sample, a prep Army All-American - "A strong safety type, Sample likes to keep plays in front of him and come in and make the big hit. He has good closing speed to break on the ball and his big frame and long arms let him knock away more than his share of passes. He has the ability to add considerable weight on his frame and be a force against the run. Team is so dominating that playing full speed every down hasn't been asked of him."

Feeney, a 6-foot-4, 205-pound specimen from Pinole Valley High School in Richmond, Calif. has the length and ranginess to be a ballhawk in the deep third, but loves to go downhill on run plays and lay a lick on the ball carrier. In high school he not only played free safety but also middle linebacker - and showed the sideline-to-sideline aggressiveness that made him a coveted defender. Add to it a body that's perfectly built to add mass to turn Feeney into a bigger, stronger and faster player - and you have the makings of someone that could be very special down the road.

Where they fit - Again, with the move of the three former safeties to linebacker it balanced out the position groups somewhat, but a spot that was once teeming with talent now has room to grow. Parker and Glenn have the inside track in terms of getting the starting safety nods this fall for the Huskies - but past that playing time is up for grabs. Depending on whether or not Justin Wilcox decides to use corners or safeties for their extra defensive back packages will probably determine a bunch of addition playing time for the safeties, but if you're looking to just move one pair to another - it looks on paper like Sample and Feeney could step in for Parker and Glenn as safety units that play together.

Ideally you'd love to pair all the safeties together, so Parker and Glenn are one unit, Sample and Feeney another, and Shamburger and Thompson the other duo. Whether that's the way things pan out this way is obviously yet to be determined. But as it's been historically with the great safety pairings at Washington, the two not only worked together for a fair bit - they worked together for a while. All the great pairings - Milloy and Parrish, Rodgers and Peoples, Smith and Pahukoa - most all played at least one year together, and typically more. Greg Grimes and Kyle Heinrich played together for the 1977 and 78 seasons; Eric Briscoe and Eugene Burkhalter played two seasons together in the late 80's; Hakim Akbar and the late Curtis Williams played the '99 and '00 seasons as a unit, while C.J. Wallace and Dashon Goldson played together in '04, '05 and even part of '06.

If Keith Heyward can keep Sample and Feeney together - two players that have shown an affinity for playing with each other and also have the benefit of being in the same recruiting class and coming up together - it could be big for years to come.

Why this is the year to make their mark - With Glenn set to graduate after the 2012 season, Parker will have to find another partner for 2013 - and he'll likely have plenty of quality players to choose from. But if the UW coaches can keep the partnership of Sample and Feeney intact and functioning throughout 2012, they will not only provide quality depth but they will also lay the groundwork for what could lay ahead. The Huskies are finally starting to put together the kind of depth the top programs in the Pac-12 have to have in order to compete for a full season, a season that usually finds its share of casualties. Sample was one of those casualties last year, but if the two can rebound from their shoulder troubles to play considerable minutes this fall - it sets the rest of their Husky careers up in fine fashion.

Sample and Feeney need to look at 2012 as a springboard to push their play to the next level where they can legitimately compete for starting positions. And the longer they play together, learn the nuances of each others' games and get to the point where playing alongside each other is second nature, it will only enhance their chances of being that next great Washington safety duo. It's going to take some work for Sample and Feeney to reach the rarified air occupied by players like Lawyer Milloy and Tony Parrish, or Tommie Smith and Shane Pahukoa - but they are capable of getting there. And I believe the longer they continue as a pair, the better those chances will be.

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