SEATTLE — To say that the University of Washington’s secondary has been in constant movement would tell only half the story.
It’s been in constant youth movement.
By the end of last season, the UW football team had two freshmen starting in the secondary. Both of those freshmen, now sophomores, have since been replaced by a new pair of true freshmen.
In a secondary that already has seen nine different starters this season, youth is king.
“It’s not because we’re looking to the future,” defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “We’re playing the guys that we have right now, and they’re doing a good job.”
The Huskies’ current starting lineup includes three freshmen defensive backs: Desmond Trufant at one cornerback, redshirt freshman Adam Long at the other cornerback, and safety Nate Fellner.
Sophomore Quinton Richardson, junior Vonzell McDowell and redshirt freshman Greg Walker have all seen their starting spots get filled by younger teammates during the first eight games of the 2009 season.
“I’ve never seen so many different people start for a team,” said Long, a Los Angeles native who replaced Richardson in the starting lineup two weeks ago. “But it’s working out for the best thus far. It’s great.”
When Long arrived at training camp in August, the depth chart included five cornerbacks fighting for two starting jobs. Long and Trufant were not among them.
But due to a combination of injury, position changes and subpar play, the players in front of them dropped by the wayside as the two freshmen moved into starting roles.
“I didn’t expect it at all,” Long said this week of his role as a starter. “Obviously, I hoped for it. But I never expected to be starting. With Quinton and Vonzell and everyone else, I didn’t think I’d get to.”
In a two-game stint as starter, Long has already impressed the coaches.
“He needs to get more physical, and stronger, but he’s gotten more confidence,” Holt said. “He’s played pretty well, he really has, for someone that hadn’t done much. I’m pleased with him.”
Five different players — Long, Trufant, McDowell, Richardson and Justin Glenn — have started at cornerback this season. The team could get converted wide receiver Anthony Boyles into the mix this weekend after the 6-foot-3 freshman took some snaps with the No. 1 defense Tuesday.
Junior Matt Mosley and freshmen Anthony Gobern, who were initially projected as possible starters, have yet to play cornerback this season.
“Some of those guys,” Holt said when asked about Mosley on Tuesday, “you can’t wait forever.”
When asked three weeks ago about Richardson’s descent from a starting position, Holt said: “Sometimes he’s his own worst enemy. He gets down on himself. He has to have more confidence.”
The safety position has been almost as unsettled this season. Fellner is the latest starter at a position that has already seen Glenn, Walker, Victor Aiyewa and Nate Williams serve as starters.
Williams, a junior who has aptly assumed the role as the secondary’s calming veteran, has seen fellow starters Fellner, Trufant and Long grow in recent weeks.
“With every game, they get more experience under their belt,” he said. “I can definitely see their game improving and them getting more confident. With that confidence increasing, it just allows them to play faster and faster. They’re definitely getting better.”
The latest youth movement might bode well for the Huskies’ future, and the coaches hope that the future is now.
“A year from now, it’s going to pay off,” Holt said. “But we’re not doing it because of the future. We’re doing it because of necessity. They’re better than the guys that are older than them, quite honestly.”
Quarterback Jake Locker (deep thigh bruise) continued to work with the first team Tuesday but has yet to have been named the starter for Saturday’s game at UCLA. Head coach Steve Sarkisian said during a Tuesday morning conference call that the decision might go right up until Saturday morning. … Boyles, defensive end Andru Pulu and safety Jason Wells took snaps with the first-team defense at Tuesday’s practice. All three could play Saturday, and Holt said Pulu might even start. The Huskies have been using senior defensive end Daniel T’eo-Nesheim at an inside position, clearing the way for Pulu to play a lot of end. … Defensive tackle Cameron Elisara (neck stinger) was back on the sideline Tuesday, and Holt said he has yet to have been cleared medically for Saturday’s game. Fellow defensive tackle Semisi Tokolahi, who was wearing a cast on his right arm, was also sidelined. … Defensive linemen Everette Thompson and De’Shon Matthews returned after sitting out Monday’s session due to illness.