Different look for DB's in Spring Game

SEATTLE - Depth charts don't mean much to J.D. Williams, he's always said as much. But for Saturday's Spring Game at Washington, all notions of who might be first string and who might be in the depth come this fall are being thrown completely out the window.

Part of that comes from the split squad format, which means both the purple and gold teams should be relatively even in strength. But another part of it comes from Williams' belief that this spring gives him a good opportunity to test some different faces at the cornerback position - some brand-new and some that have dabbled with the position in the past.

"I told the guys that the depth chart is etched in sand," Williams told Dawgman.com. "It's forever changing. And the guys know that."

Part of that change finds Quinton Richardson and Mesphin Forrester near, or right at the top of the two starting cornerback positions, positions that players like Byron Davenport, Matt Mosley and Vonzell McDowell had a pretty good grip on. But Williams has his reasons.

"I know Byron can play," he said. "I want to see who else can play. You want the other guys running with the veteran group to see how they act."

And with this chance to see guys like Richardson and Forrester 'on an island', Williams has gone with two of the bigger cornerbacks Washington has seen in some time.

"With everybody going to big receivers nowadays, you're going to need bigger, more physical corners," Williams said. "I'm pleased with the way Quinton is playing and Mesphin - we're seeing how he looks like out there."

"I've always been a good cover guy," Forrester said. He's listed on the UW spring roster at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds. "I've always felt like that's been my strong points at safety. I could cover a tight end or a slot receiver. At corner, it's like covering that slot guy on an island. I don't have a problem with covering a guy, so that just added to what I can bring to the team."

Forrester played a bunch in the Huskies' nickel package his third year in the program, but that feels like light years from today. "Looking back then, I was pretty inexperienced, but now I'm a lot more experienced as a senior and I know a lot more about schemes and it comes a lot easier," he said.

"He's a good player in space," Williams said of Forrester. "But the closer you get him to the ball to press he's going to be better because he's more physical, and that's what he feels comfortable doing."

Richardson appears to be the big surprise of camp at corner. At 6-feet and 205 pounds, the former O'Dea star was expected to come into the UW program at safety and then possibly even move up to linebacker because of his physical play at the high school level. But the move out to corner isn't putting Richardson in unfamiliar territory; he did start there for the Irish two years ago.

"I like the challenge of going up against the best receiver, sticking with them one-on-one, going deep and chasing the ball," Richardson told Dawgman.com. He admitted that playing corner has freed him up from thinking too much, something that definitely slowed him a little at safety.

"I had to learn a lot about adjustments, more about checks and things like that," Richardson said about playing in the middle. "I felt at corner, it's a little easier. I felt better being on an island, just me and the receiver."

He's gotten some help from new UW Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell. Donatell, who was Atlanta's Defensive Coordinator from 2004 to 2006, showed Richardson tapes of the Falcons' top shut-down corner at the time - DeAngelo Hall. Hall is now with the Oakland Raiders.

"Any time you bring something new, it's fresh and the kids are excited," Williams said about Donatell and what he's done to kick-start the defensive effort this spring. "Anything that can make them excited about something, that's good."

Richardson also cited help from Davenport as something that has helped his ascension through the ranks.

"He's helping me through things, showing me the ropes - telling me things to look for on routes," Richardson said. "I'm a little surprised (at the move up), but at the same time I know that I've worked a lot harder than some of the older guys that were ahead of me on the depth chart."

Davenport - for his own part - knows that he's competing against Richardson, but understands that it's in the team's best interests to get as many guys competitive and ready to play this fall as possible.

"Things are going real good," he said. "This is as healthy as I've been. I've been enjoying it. I'm showing pieces of me that they didn't see last year, doing little things I wasn't able to do last year. It's a big difference. I'm happy right now.

"We have a lot of guys now in the secondary, and a lot of guys getting reps. They are getting thrown into the fire, and they aren't used to that. I take it upon myself to give them some game and some knowledge about how the offense is going to attack you. Just to give them a feel for it. If you don't know how they are going to try and take advantage of you, it could be a long day."

The competitor in Davenport doesn't want to see playing time moved away from him, but understands why things are happening the way they are. "It's cool," he said of the plan to see other faces at corner for the time being. "The way I see it, when they made the move, I didn't know about it until they brought me in and told me what they wanted to do. All it does is motivate. I'm not worried about it. I just have to go out there and do my thing."

And this change is not just at corner. New faces are taking center stage at safety too, especially with Forrester's move outside and with Jason Wells still recovering from a knee injury he suffered against USC.

"We have Nate Williams and Victor (Aiyewa) and Darrin (Harris) and Jason (Wells) when he comes back, and Desmond Davis is there now too," Forrester said of the safety position.

Add to the mix the talents of 26 year-old Tripper Johnson, who decided to come back to football after eight seasons playing professional baseball in the minor leagues, and it's easy to see why Williams was curious about Forrester on the edge.

"We have a lot of depth at safety, so I felt like I could help the corner situation out," Forrester added. "It became a good fit."

Williams, with his play last season at safety and special teams, was a name Husky fans were familiar with. Aiyewa, even though he played in every single game of the 2007 season, isn't as quick to register in the fans' collective conscience. That's because his presence was solely felt on special teams, but this fall should be a different matter.

"Last fall, I felt like I had a lot of weight on my back," Aiyewa told Dawgman.com. "I didn't have time to really sit back and think about the things I needed to work on. But when I did have time, I'm able to produce the things I'm able to do now.

"For the most part I'm playing with more confidence than I was last year. And when I'm more confident, I can produce more."

From the limited practice time allotted, it appears that Aiyewa has been the real revelation of spring. He brings a hard-hitting style and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Aiyewa admitted that it's been his 'mental control' - and not the big hit - that has allowed him to progress through the last 15 practices.

"I thought a lot and was always trying to be the best at what I do, but I think that was actually putting me further away from my goals, because I was critiquing myself to the point where I was knocking down my confidence," he said. "But I have my confidence up, I have my swagger up, so now I'm just ready to play and have fun."

Aiyewa, at 6-foot-1 and 217 pounds, will hopefully remind Washington fans of those hard-hitting safeties of years past: guys like Hakim Akbar, Lawyer Milloy and Tony Parrish. He acts as a perfect foil for Williams, who is physical but can also make plays in space.

"I'm stronger now and I can control my power," he said. "Last year I always tried to bring the big hits at the wrong time. I would miss open-field tackles because I was trying to bring the big hit. But now I know that big hits come in certain situations, so I'm mindful of that.

"As a team, we're going to be more physical. We have a lot of physical guys on this team. I don't think there's going to be any weak parts on this team. We all want to hit."

Aiyewa, along with linebacker Donald Butler, embody a mindset that almost feels like a throwback - but really isn't. "I like to instill that fear in people, for some reason," Aiyewa said. "That's the way defense needs to be played."

It's tough talk that's backed up with big hits. And that seems to be the theme of this particular spring for the Washington Huskies secondary: Bigger IS Better. Bigger players. Bigger hits. Bigger playmaking capabilities.

But will all of it have a bigger impact on the outcome of games? We'll get a progress report on Saturday.

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