Husky fans probably want to forget the 2007 Washington secondary, which ranked 104th in the nation in pass defense. While there is no playmaker in the cornerback rotation, there are plenty of quality bodies who are looking to surprise critics this season.
It all starts with redshirt senior Mesphin Forrester, who made the switch from strong safety to cornerback towards the end of spring practices. Forrester is the Huskies' second leading returning tackler, having posted 93 tackles last season. However, Forrester is the leading returning tackler for all intensive purposes with E.J. Savannah currently academically ineligible. Forrester also posted two interceptions in 2007, returning one of them 54 yards for a touchdown against USC.
The transition to cornerback has gone well for Forrester in his eyes.
"It's going good," said Forrester of the move. "I moved in spring, towards the end of the last week. I've got two good weeks in with the corners this fall. I think I'm doing really good. In the off-season, I worked on a lot of footwork, corners, splits and routes. It's coming along really well."
Forrester's transition to cornerback has drawn praise from the Huskies' top dawg.
"The other day we were walking back to the facility and I asked him how long had he been at corner, and when you listen to that amount of time, it's quite short," explained Washington Head Coach Tyrone Willingham. "So he's done, I think, a wonderful job of adjusting at corner. Obviously he has some advantages because of his size. I think he's near 200, 205-pounds, somewhere in there. That's a good size corner to have, so it's a real plus for us. But he's learning a lot and he's doing a pretty good job."
Forrester discussed the differences between playing safety and cornerback.
"I would say the biggest adjustment is just knowing that I'm on that island. With a safety, it's kind of different, because I'm either guarding a tight end or maybe even a slot receiver, and I'm helping on the run a lot," explained Forrester. "As far as being a corner, knowing that I'm on the island - I've got to cover guys. I think it actually helps me out, because I get to use my athletic ability a little more."
Slated to start opposite Forrester is redshirt freshman Quinton Richardson. Richardson was recruited with the possibility of playing safety, but made the switch to cornerback last season, and has thrived since then.
"Mesphin is still learning the position - he's only been playing it for a couple of weeks. Quinton - he played corner all last year, so he got a chance to really learn the position a lot more than Mesphin has," explained Washington Secondary Coach J.D. Williams. "I think the transition was a little smoother for Quinton than it was for Mesphin, but Mesphin is still young at it."
Richardson feels he can bring the complete package to the cornerback position - something that has recently been lacking for the Huskies.
"Probably strength, a lot of strength. I'm kind of strong, so I can get a heavy hand on the receivers," responded Richardson when asked what he'll bring to the position. "I also bring speed. I can keep up with the smaller guys. I get a lot of practice with D'Andre Goodwin - he's a good receiver to go against to get me ready for the Pac-10. I'm able to go deep, I can cover the deep ball."
Forrester discussed Washington's speedy receiving corp and how it has helped him improve his quickness.
"I even told D'Andre that I feel like I got faster going up against him everyday, because he's a very quick guy," explained Forrester. "Just going up against him everyday, testing my speed and moving my legs faster - it's great going up against those guys. We've got a lot of young guys, but a lot of quick, fast guys too. Going up against them makes me better."
Washington has talent at the cornerback position, but a common theme for the 2008 Huskies, is that the talent is inexperienced. However, while Washington's cornerbacks may be inexperienced for the most part, they certainly aren't lacking in the physicality department.
"Yeah, definitely," exclaimed Forrester when asked if the physical nature of the starting cornerbacks excites him. "To have big safeties out there and big corners - we can do some big things this year. We're really excited, really jacked up about it. We're just happy about this season and ready to get to the Oregon game."
Backing up Forrester and Richardson should be sophomore Vonzell McDowell and redshirt sophomore Matt Mosley. McDowell was one of seven true freshman to see the field last season, playing in eight games and starting three of those, notching 20 tackles and one interception in the process. McDowell had his struggles, like most true freshman do, but showed he has a bright future at Montlake. Mosley played in 11 games last season, starting three of those after redshirting his true freshman season.
"Vonzell is playing really well and Matt Mosley is also coming on strong," expressed Williams. "It's all about competition. Those guys are competing for starting positions too, although Mesphin's got the lead right now, but those guys are competing."
McDowell feels the experience of playing as a true freshman is something that has benefitted him. He also discussed his improvements from last season.
"It helped me a lot. It let me see what my rights and wrongs were. I think putting me in early has helped me a lot. I now understand the tempo of the game, what to expect and how to read certain coverage's, so I like it," said McDowell. "The biggest difference this time around is I understand the game a lot better now. I know how to approach things, I know my reads. I feel like I'm going to do a lot better."
Redshirt senior Byron Davenport will play a big role in the cornerback rotation this season if he can stay healthy, but that may be a big if. Davenport suffered a hamstring injury during last season's fall practices, but still managed to play in 11 games, starting seven of them. However, injuries have been nagging Davenport lately, which could affect his ability to contribute this season.
Looking to work himself into the rotation this fall is true freshman Justin Glenn.
"I'm doing alright, just getting the hang of everything, getting in the swing of everything. I'm getting used to the whole change of speed and everything, all of the different coverage's. It's a lot to learn right now, but it's coming," explained Glenn of his acclimation to Pac-10 football. "I've noticed that it's more of the little things, perfecting the technique in order to get the job done. It's not just go out there and get the job done, because everybody's good. Basically it's just the little things that I have to focus on."
Another true freshman, Adam Long, will look to work into the rotation as well, but will probably sport a redshirt this season. A third true freshman, Anthony Gobern, would have likely redshirted, but thats almost a certainty after receiving shoulder surgery recently. However, the three newbies drew praise from Williams.
"They have a lot of speed. Unfortunately Anthony Gobern hurt his shoulder and he had surgery, but there's a lot of talent, a lot of speed in that young group and I'm excited about them," exclaimed Williams. "Right now there's a lot of competition in front of them, and they have to catch up mentally before they can actually step in and do something. I'm excited about all of those young kids - the future is bright."
Redshirt freshman Marquis Persley will also look to factor into the depth chart and may earn some playing time at some point, but will probably earn his keep on special teams if anything.
A few of the cornerbacks offered up their opinion's of new defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, who joined the Huskies after serving over a decade in the National Football League.
"He's a coach that cares a lot. He makes sure everybody on defense knows what their purpose is and what they're supposed to do," explained McDowell. "He makes sure they understand the coverage or play to the fullest of their ability. He helps us when we need help. He tells us instead of yelling. He'll tell us what's right from wrong."
"I would say the biggest difference with the whole defense as a corp is probably just a positive feel," expressed Forrester. "I just look at a guy's face and I see a glare - they're just happy to be here. Usually camp is a drag because it's two-a-days and what not, but they're happy and it's a positive feel. Coach Donatell brings a positive feel to the defense and the defensive coaches."
"It's a huge difference. Mesphin told me to take advantage of having a new d-coordinator," said Richardson. "Just take advantage of it and go along with it. The changes are magnificent. I don't think any offense in the Pac-10 is going to be ready for the things that we're bringing."
McDowell shared in Richardson's excitement for the Husky secondary.
"Words can't explain. People see that the secondary is becoming that much better," exclaimed McDowell. "Reacting to plays, making plays when the ball is in the air - we're all doing it, we're happy and we're excited to be back there. We're just ready to make plays."
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