Saturday is 'Money Game' for Trufant

SEATTLE - Desmond Trufant is already flying in some pretty rarified air for Washington cornerbacks. UW Head Coach Steve Sarkisian remarked during his coaches show Monday that Trufant could very well be one of the top three cornerbacks taken in next year's NFL draft, that's how well he's playing in the eyes of the pro scouts.

Rob Rang of and CBS Sports agrees. Rang believes the 6-foot senior from Wilson High in Tacoma is already earning second and third-round grades for the 2013 NFL Draft in a year that's not the strongest for corners. He's neck-and-neck with Oregon State's Jordan Poyer when it comes to the best senior corners in the Pac-12.

To put Trufant's current rating in perspective, Washington has had only two other cornerbacks since the beginning of the Don James era in 1975 go that high in their respective drafts; Mark Lee in 1980 to Green Bay (second round) and Dana Hall to San Francisco in the first round of the 1992 NFL Draft.

Trufant has a chance to move ahead of Poyer when it comes to perceptions Saturday afternoon when the Huskies host No. 9 USC at CenturyLink Field. The Huskies have played arguably the toughest schedule in the country, especially if you believe in the methodology used by people like Jeff Sagarin, but they've held up particularly well in the secondary - largely due to the efforts of Trufant.

"I think he's a real talented guy, real competitive," UW Defensive Coordinator Justin Wilcox told Wednesday. "I wouldn't trade him for anybody."

Compared to 2012, Washington is giving up only 174 yards through the air per game, an improvement of over 110 yards from the previous season. It's what Sarkisian envisioned when he fired embattled defensive coordinator Nick Holt and replaced him with Northwest native Wilcox, who played defensive back at Oregon - as well as former Oregon State Defensive Backs Coach Keith Heyward.

A lot of that falls on the head of Trufant, who has become as complete a shut-down corner as any UW player in some time. And in a year where Rang has only one senior cornerback graded as a possible first round 2013 pick - Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks - 'Tru' could improve his stock dramatically with a strong game against two of the top wide receivers in the entire country - USC's Marquise Lee and Robert Woods.

"This is his money game right here," Heyward said, matter-of-factly. "And it's a great challenge for him to go up against one of those guys or both of them throughout the game and display his talents versus their talents."

Lee and Woods may not even be the best receiver combo in the Pac-12. Oregon State's Markus Wheaton and Brandin Cooks have a legitimate claim to make, as well as Arizona's Austin Hill and Dan Buckner and Washington State's Marquess Wilson and Gabriel Marks. But Lee and Woods combined for 2435 yards on 184 completions and 26 touchdowns last year and Lee currently leads the Pac-12 in receiving and all-purpose yards. In fact, Sarkisian said Monday that a case could be made for Lee being the best player in America right now.

"We've got to know where they both are," Heyward said of Lee and Woods. "We have our coverages and things we'll do to match them up, but we'll always know where they are no matter where they are - even if they are in the backfield."

Expect Trufant to get his sternest test to date, and he knows it too. He declined interview requests this week and Heyward is doing everything he can to keep the senior leader focused on the task at hand, which is doing his part to help the Huskies beat USC on Saturday.

"I don't know if it registers with him right now," Heyward said about Trufant's future and what scouts think of him. "I just try and keep him focused on playing and if a GM thinks he's a top-3 pick or top-3 corner, then great. But I try to eliminate that distraction. He shouldn't worry about that right now. If he focuses and plays like he did the first five games, then he'll find himself worthy of that."

For his part, Heyward isn't as worried about Tru as he is the secondary as a whole. They had a couple coverage busts in UW's 52-21 loss to Oregon Saturday night and he's doing everything he can to make sure lapses in communication don't take place the rest of the season, even resorting to some unusual methods to crystalize his thinking during Sunday and Monday position meetings.

"I made those guys sit seat-by-seat next to each other in the first three rows and the first three chairs so they can get used to being close to each together to make us a tighter group and communicating with each other," he said.

It's all being done to clean up a defense that has already been remarkably better than last year but still has a long way to go to reach their potential. "There's no time to sit and lick your wounds…24 hour rule," Wilcox said. "We've got to clean up the things we can control and move on to the next week."

And if Trufant takes care of what he can control - which is doing his part to shut down Marquise Lee and Robert Woods - he can expect a nice payday in the pros. He's put in a lot of work to get to this point, but the job is only half-done.

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