April 14, 2009
By Taylor Soper
Near the end of the 2008 football season, Husky fans watched in dismay as opposing quarterbacks found players wide open downfield for 80-yard pass plays, while running backs sprinted untouched through the secondary for 50-yard runs.
This year, the UW secondary hopes to toughen up by starting with the basics: acting as a team.
"We're trying to get tougher as a whole unit," junior safety Nate Williams said. "Last year, it was more of the corners doing their own thing and the safeties doing their own thing. Now we're on the same page."
Williams added that the safeties, cornerbacks and linebackers are learning what each position should be doing. By playing as a unit instead of in individual positions, confidence comes more naturally.
"Personally, that makes me more confident in my cornerback," said Williams, who led the secondary last year with 76 tackles. "He knows what I'm doing, and I know what he's doing."
The battle for corner and safety positions figures to be competitive. Gone is former cornerback Mesphin Forrester, who led the team last year with two interceptions. Sophomore Quinton Richardson and juniors Vonzell McDowell Jr. and Matt Mosley saw time last year at the cornerback position, but many new faces, such as Anthony Gobern, Adam Long and Justin Glenn, may help defensively.
At the safety position, Williams and senior Tripper Johnson should provide leadership, while sophomores Victor Aiyewa and Marquis Persley will add to a position that coaches hope to improve by focusing on fundamentals.
"Whether it's the safeties or the corners, they have to learn their coverage, their fundamental footwork and their fundamental football reads," defensive coordinator Nick Holt said.
The secondary will have its hands full with receivers from the likes of LSU, USC and Notre Dame. Holt said that the corners and safeties will need to stay on top of the deep ball and be aware of the posts. He also said the secondary is working on everything from footwork to tackling.
"We are spending a lot of time with our team this spring on our tackling mechanics and learning leverage and angles," Holt said. "We do that stuff every day; it's an everyday process."
Demetrice Martin takes over as the secondary/cornerbacks coach. Last year, Martin was an assistant at Mt. San Antonio in Walnut, Calif., and helped the Mounties to a 12-2 record. Prior to his time at Mt. San Antonio, Martin worked under Holt at USC in 2007 as a graduate defensive assistant.
Jeff Mills is returning to Montlake as the new secondary/safeties coach. Mills was a graduate assistant for the Dawgs under Don James in 1990 and 1991. For the last 10 years, Mills has been either an assistant head coach or a defensive coordinator.
"He knows the game a lot," Williams said. "He teaches us a lot every day, and, like all other coaches, he's very energetic."
In spring practices, the secondary has looked upbeat and active. Persley intercepted a Jake Locker pass during Friday's practice, which led to numerous high-fives and chest bumps from his fellow teammates and coaches. But the Huskies have a lot to prove after last season, during which they gave up big play after big play.
"Last year obviously was a pretty tough year for us," Williams said. "We really got hurt on the deep balls and the runs. We have a lot to prove, and we are definitely up for the challenge."
With new intensity and a new attitude, players and coaches are optimistic that Husky fans will see a better secondary.
"Hopefully we develop a good, solid, tough secondary that you can count on, that eliminates the big play, and a secondary that is really sound on their fundamentals," Holt said.