Pre-Spring Outlook - Defensive Backs

SEATTLE - Byron Davenport's hamstring just wouldn't hold up, so true freshman Vonzell McDowell started at cornerback for the Washington Huskies' first game of 2007 against Syracuse. Nine defensive backs return for 2008 with game experience, so it's unlikely new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell will have youth as a ready excuse for his secondary this spring.

But that doesn't mean there aren't issues; quite the contrary. Donatell and defensive backs coach J.D. Williams need to find a replacement for three-year starter Roy Lewis at one of the cornerback spots. And while the Huskies boast depth and experience, they didn't exactly shut people down in 2007.

In fact, they were ninth in the Pac-10 in pass defense, as well as dead last in pass efficiency defense and were second only to Washington State in first downs given up via the pass and to California in interceptions (11, with only seven coming by way of the secondary).

In short, they gave up too many big plays and didn't come up with as many 'sudden change' plays as they needed. And everyone knows how big turnovers can play in the course of winning or losing a football game.

That brings us to this spring. Certainly the Huskies bring a lot of players back that played in 2007. They are a year older, but are they are a year better? Clearly much of that will lay at the feet of Donatell and Williams, who will be responsible for making sure whatever schematic changes are implimented with speed and precision.
Free Safety

Mesphin Forrester* 6-2 205 Sr. Los Angeles, Calif. (Venice)
Darin Harris* 5-11 200 Sr. Federal Way, Wash. (Decatur)
Jason Wells 6-2 210 Sr. LaVerne, Calif. (Bonita/Mt. SAC)
Nate Williams 6-1 205 So. Renton, Wash. (Kennedy)

Strong Safety

Victor Aiyewa 6-1 217 So. Fresno, Texas (Hightower)
LonZell Hill+* 5-11 180 Fr. Seattle, Wash. (Kennedy)

+ Walk-on
* Has utilized redshirt season

Forrester and Harris are the two stalwarts returning from 2007, and expect them to start out at the mirror safety positions heading into spring. The two biggest questions heading into spring here are the health of Jason Wells and how much progress Nate Williams and Victor Aiyewa have made in the off-season.

An argument can be made that many of the secondary's woes worsened considerably when Wells was hurt during the USC game (a game in which he had an interception and seemed to really be getting things together). The injury to his knee shelved Wells for the remainder of the season, so the big question is - can the enforcer in the deep-third come back and play healthy for a whole season? He hasn't been able to yet, and a full season from Wells would be a huge boost to a secondary where continuity would be a welcome change.

Based on last year's performance, Nate Williams is the shining young star ready to bust out onto the scene this spring. He might even take over for Forrester or Harris if he plays well enough, and he's totally capable of doing just that. Ever since he stripped Syracuse's Taj Smith in the end zone of a sure touchdown grab, it appeared that Williams was one of those rare young players for the Huskies; someone who 'got it'. For example, he had more solo tackles than starting SAM Dan Howell did in 2007, despite only one start (he started in nickel against Hawai'i). Simply put, he has a nose for the ball.

How Williams emerges, as well as the other safety to see playing time - Victor Aiyewa (strictly on special teams, though he played in all 13 games) - will signify whether or not the youngsters are ready to show some of the older dawgs some new tricks.
Cornerback

Byron Davenport* 5-11 195 Sr. Long Beach, Calif. (Poly/UCLA)
Jordan Murchison* 6-0 184 Sr. Oakland, Calif. (Bishop O'Dowd/CCSF)
Desmond Davis+* 5-11 190 Sr. Olympia, Wash. (Olympia/CWU)
Matt Mosley* 5-11 190 So. Chandler, Ariz. (Corona del Sol)
Vonzell McDowell, Jr. 5-9 176 So. Kent, Wash. (Rainier Beach)
Quinton Richardson* 6-0 205 Fr. Renton, Wash. (O'Dea)
Marquis Persley* 6-1 183 Fr. Redlands, Calif. (East Valley)
Mick Connors+* 5-11 175 Fr. Bellevue, Wash. (Bellevue/San Diego)

+ Walk-on
* Has utilized redshirt season

At one of the corner spots, Byron Davenport should be a fixture. The UW coaches last year were hoping he was going to be a fixture for them starting at Syracuse, but a nagging hamstring wouldn't see the UCLA transfer on the field for any significant time until, ironically enough, the UCLA road trip.

The other spot - open due to Lewis' graduation - should initially start out as a dawg-fight between Mosley and McDowell. Both saw ample playing time in 2007 and this year should be the year both break out and see if they are capable of taking their games to the next level. Either way, both players are going to be needed as major contributors, as the Huskies' non-base packages will be continually tested in a conference that loves to throw the ball around.

But much like safety, cornerback will be another position where this spring affords an opportunity for some of the younger players a chance to usurp playing time from some of the veterans. For the corners, that means Quinton Richardson and Marquis Persley.

When Richardson was recruited, it was thought that his body might continue to grow and he could end up at either strong safety or even as an outside linebacker. But Williams loves Richardson's size out wide and thinks he could be the type of corner that can physically match up with the bigger receivers of the league.

Persley isn't known for being as strong or as physical as Richardson, but he does have the size. At 6-foot-1, Persley has the frame to be able to add pounds and work on being that big corner Williams envisions. It will be fun to see just how the young guys at corner shake off the rust from their redshirt seasons and pick up the pace this spring. It's doubtful with the depth already at corner that they'll make a serious dent in Donatell's thought process, but that's what the 15 practices are for.

Since Donatell has never seen the players work out live, Richardson and Persley have - in theory - just as much of an opportunity to shine and win a spot on the depth as anyone. All they have to do is take it.

And that's the thing about heading into spring with a new coordinator: nothing is set in stone, no matter how many letters you've won. It all comes down to making plays. And the Washington secondary is looking for play-makers in the worst possible way.


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