Spring Preview - Defensive Backs

It's so cliche to say, but Washington secondary coach J.D. Williams is living proof - the more things change, the more things stay the same. And coming into the 2006 season at UW - his first at Montlake - he was dealing with a lack of depth and experience. One year later, things haven't changed all that much.

Gone are seniors Dashon Goldson, Matt Fountaine and C.J. Wallace. Back are Roy Lewis, Jason Wells and Mesphin Forrester. But here's the difference; going into their final spring, the first three had a combined 49 starts between them. The last three? Try 20.

"One good thing is that the guys will get a lot of reps and gain a lot of experience," Williams recently said, trying hard to put a brave face on the situation. "I just have to keep them injury-free. We just can't have any freak accidents or pull a hamstring or something, because those have a tendency to keep you out for a while.

"we've got a couple of starters back there. Jason Wells - he had a couple of injuries last season - and Roy Lewis, who will hopefully be our leader back there and take us where we need to go. Mesphin Forrester, he got some game time under his belt. Hopefully that will translate into more experience back there."

Lewis, a senior transfer from San Jose State back in 2004, is now unquestionably the leader and senior staffer of the Huskies' defensive back end, and Williams will be leaning on him heavily.

"You need someone that's physically and mentally tough, and Roy has that," Williams said of Lewis. "All you need now is to get more production out of him when he's out there on the field."

Lewis had no interceptions in 2006 after taking his only pick in 2005 to the house against Arizona. Ironically enough, Lewis had a bigger impact as a returner last year, despite being a starting corner alongside Goldson. He was the Huskies' leading kickoff returner in terms of yards, and certainly could be their No. 1 punt returner for the spring now that Marlon Wood has graduated.

Williams has warmed to the idea of his top corner also being used on special teams. "All he needs is a thigh bruise, and he'd be out for a while," he said. "Roy runs hard when he takes off with the ball. The first game of the year, that was shaky there because I didn't know what kind of a runner he was with the ball, but he does all right. No one really gets a direct shot on him, so that makes me feel better."

One year ago, Williams knew he had three solid corners from which he could choose from - Lewis, Goldson and Fountaine. This spring? It's not nearly as clear, especially when he only has three on scholarship to even choose from - Lewis, Jordan Murchison and Matt Mosley.

"If we had to line up tomorrow, that would be a tough one," Williams said when asked about who would get the starting nod opposite Lewis. "Last year (of the players coming back) we had Jordan Murchison and Matt Mosley. When the freshmen come in, hopefully Vonzell McDowell and Byron Davenport will push those guys. But in the spring, there's going to be a lot of competition, but the level of experience will be the same."

Just from an experience standpoint, Murchison would appear to have a leg up on Mosley, but it's his legs - and more specifically his knees - that will have to stay injury-free in order for the junior college transfer from Oakland to fulfill his potential.

"It was one of those situations last year where we had him slotted to play," Williams said of Murchison. "He did some good things in the spring and we go through training camp and the Tuesday before San Jose (State) he hurt his knee. He was fighting an injury, and when you're fighting an injury and expecting to play, he kind of got down, so we decided it would be best to hold him back. But he knows he's going to get a full chance to play (this year)."

Mosley was a two-way star for Corona Del Sol High School in Chandler, Ariz., but when he showed up on campus last fall he started out on offense. But after getting lost in the shuffle, the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Mosley saw an opportunity for playing time at corner. Williams would love to see Mosley grow up in a hurry to fill an obvious need. With Davenport, a player that already has Pac-10 experience, arriving in the fall, this spring will be Mosley's only chance to widen the gap from a knowledge standpoint.

"The kid has some quickness, some explosion in him," Williams said of Mosley. "He kind of got lost (with the running backs) with Kenny James, Louis Rankin, Shelton Sampson, so he was on the depth chart but was struggling picking up the system. Then he played receiver. That lasted two days. He wasn't very happy. He asked to be a part of the secondary. By that time we were 12-13 practices in (the season) and it's tough because he was playing catch-up. But he's gifted athletically. So it's just a matter of picking up the system. He's had a season and now he'll go through spring ball, so he'll have a great opportunity to start."

At safety, things appear a little clearer in regards to starters, but not nearly so when talking about reserves. Junior Jason Wells started eight games in 2006 and could have started two others if not for a concussion and concerns over a knee injury. But Wells is 100 percent healthy again, and ready to capitalize on his experience last year - where he was thrown right into the fire of live action.

"It's like night and day," Williams said of Wells. "Just the confidence he carries now with a year under his belt...it's going to do great things for him. When I look at Jason last year, I thought of him as a true freshman even though he was a sophomore. For a sophomore to step into a Division-1 program where you come into spring ball and you have a Dashon Goldson in front of you and a Chris Hemphill in front of you and you still aren't sure because they both had playing experience, but you take the position over anyways. You start doing great things, so he showed his ability to learn. Now it's all about the game, learning the game. He's had a year to get stronger and bigger in the weight room, so he's going to be special for us."

Mesphin Forrester, the only other returning safety with 2006 game experience, will start out at the other safety position. Williams has high hopes for the senior from Los Angeles in his final go-around. "We just have to get him going," Williams said of Forrester. "He's been here three years and been in the system two years now, and he's got some game experience. He started a game for us and played a little corner for us against San Jose State. He's a good athlete, he just needs to believe more in his athleticism so he can go out there and make plays."

One story line to watch in regard to the defensive backs this spring will be the return of Darin Harris. The senior from Federal Way is still on his way back after starting four games in 2005 as a true sophomore. "He had back problems (broken Vertebrae), so they're bringing him back slow," Williams said of Harris. "Safety is always going to be an issue for him until he's fully healthy. But in watching film of him two years ago when he had some playing experience, it's just a matter of getting him back and getting him confident in his abilty so he can come out and play. He's a smart kid."

If Harris can contribute at all, it will be a nice bonus for Williams, who is also looking to a couple of walk-ons to shore up depth in the secondary and also take their shot this spring in the hopes of earning a coveted scholarship. You know the situation in general isn't at top form when the coach takes time to talk about participation from these players, but Williams knows they could also seize the moment while numbers are still a concern. "We have a couple of walk-on kids that should help us out," he said. "Jay Angiotti, who is from Hawaii and was a freshman last year, we brought him in at corner but he's really a safety, so he'll get a lot of quality reps. And Desmond Davis, he'll get a lot of reps and he's looking good too."

The secondary players that are at UW this spring have a unique opportunity to help solidify their position on the team heading into fall, because in August, Williams will be on the receiving end of a truck-load of talent that could see early playing time despite little or no previous Division-1 experience. In fact, a few of those new players will most assuredly earn their Husky Stadium debuts a lot quicker than Williams would normally like, if for no other reason than the scholarship numbers will dictate early playing time.

"When the season starts, we'll have Victor Ayewa, Quintin Richardson, Byron (Davenport), Vonzell (McDowell) and Marquis Persley, so we'll have some talent," Williams said. "I think these new guys will be better athletically than what we've had in the past, so now it's just a matter of mentally getting caught up where they understand the system and what we're trying to accomplish. It's going to be exciting, because we're going to have younger guys that are better athletically, but we're also going to have crafty veterans trying to hold them off with their knowledge. So we'll see what happens."

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