Washington defensive back Elijah Molden breaks up a pass intended for Utah wide receiver Samson Nacua during a game on Nov. 2, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Washington defensive back Elijah Molden breaks up a pass intended for Utah wide receiver Samson Nacua during a game on Nov. 2, 2019, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)

Huskies stocked with NFL talent at defensive back

But Washington’s special teams will have to count on some young players in 2020.

By Mike Vorel / The Seattle Times

Technically, Jimmy Lake is no longer Washington’s defensive-backs coach.

But a change in leadership, or a change in title, won’t change expectations for UW’s experienced DBs.

In the final installment of the 2020 position-by-position breakdowns, let’s take a closer look at the Huskies’ secondary and special teams:

SECONDARY

Who’s back

Cornerback

Keith Taylor, sr., 6-3, 195

Dominique Hampton, so., 6-2, 208

Mishael Powell, rs-fr., 6-1, 204*

Trent McDuffie, so., 5-11, 185

Kyler Gordon, so., 6-0, 190

Zechariah Brown, jr., 5-10, 195*

Nickel

Elijah Molden, sr., 5-10, 190

Julius Irvin, so., 6-1, 191

Isaiah Gilchrist, sr., 5-11, 208

Safety

Asa Turner, so., 6-3, 187

Brandon McKinney, sr., 6-0, 201

Nick Juran, rs-fr., 6-0, 194*

Cameron Williams, so., 6-0, 191

Alex Cook, jr., 6-1, 203

Kamren Fabiculanan, rs-fr., 6-1, 181

Who’s out

Myles Bryant

Dustin Bush

Who’s new

S Jacobe Covington, fr., 6-1, 196

S Makell Esteen, fr., 6-1, 176

CB Elijah Jackson, fr., 6-0, 182

CB James Smith, fr., 6-1, 182

*walk-on

Outlook: Welcome to land of established entities. In the secondary, UW returns starting corners Keith Taylor and Trent McDuffie, as well as nickelback Elijah Molden. All Molden did last season was lead the Huskies in tackles (79), pass breakups (13), interceptions (4) and forced fumbles (3), while adding 5.5 tackles for loss and earning first-team all-conference honors. All McDuffie did was pump out 45 tackles, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception while starting 11 consecutive games as a true freshman. And in the back end, true sophomores Cameron Williams and Asa Turner return after starting a combined 12 games in their freshman seasons.

But, if we’ve learned one thing about Lake, it’s that the man loves to play defensive backs. That’s why sophomores Kyler Gordon, Julius Irvin and Dominique Hampton may well see the field in some capacity as well. The 6-0, 190-pound Gordon, an Archbishop Murphy High School alum, is one of the Huskies’ premier athletes and came on strong in his redshirt freshman season, after surrendering his starting job to McDuffie. Gordon finished with 32 tackles and four passes defended. Irvin, meanwhile, is an interesting case. The 6-1, 191-pound defensive back was a blue-chip recruit in the 2018 class, and Lake has repeatedly praised his ability to play a multitude of secondary positions. But after struggling with injuries last offseason, he never made an impact in 2019.

Could Irvin, then, suddenly emerge in the back end at safety? Or perhaps veterans like senior Brandon McKinney and junior Alex Cook could challenge Williams and Turner for those starting roles. Don’t count out 6-1, 196-pound freshman safety Jacobe Covington, perhaps UW’s most impressive defensive signee in 2020 (except, of course, for Sav’ell Smalls).

With Lake overseeing the entire operation at UW, Will Harris and Terrence Brown will tutor the Husky defensive backs in 2020. One thing is certain: there will be no shortage of NFL talent on the field.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Who’s back

Kicker

Peyton Henry, jr., 5-11, 197

Tim Horn, so., 6-2, 211

Punter

Race Porter, sr., 6-2, 183

Kick return

Sean McGrew, sr., 5-7, 186

Terrell Bynum, jr., 6-1, 189

Kyler Gordon, so., 6-0, 190

Punt return

Terrell Bynum, jr., 6-1, 189

Kyler Gordon, so., 6-0, 190

Long snapper

Luke Lane, sr., 6-0, 202

Who’s out

Joel Whitford

A.J. Carty

Van Soderberg

Who’s new

LS Jaden Green, fr., 5-10, 201

P Triston Brown, fr., 6-1, 190

Outlook: UW’s special teams were generally improved last season. After beating out true freshman Tim Horn for the starting place-kicking job in fall camp, Peyton Henry connected on 19 of 21 field goals and all 49 extra points — earning a scholarship in the process. Horn secured touchbacks on 55% of his kickoffs, up from 32.43% with Henry holding that job in 2018. UW punters averaged 44.62 yards per punt, which ranked 20th nationally and second in the Pac-12. Senior punter Joel Whitford knocked a career-best 16 punts inside the 20-yard line. Heck, Aaron Fuller even returned a punt for a touchdown in a road win over Brigham Young.

But what now? Whitford is gone. Fuller is gone. Veteran long snapper A.J. Carty is gone. The Huskies are going to have to count on some first-time specialists in 2020 — most notably, freshman punter Triston Brown and long snapper Jaden Green. Out of Mt. San Antonio College, Brown was ranked as the top punter in the 2020 class by Chris Sailer Kicking. Green was regarded as the No. 3 long snapper in his class by Kohl’s Scholarship Camp. Neither player was given a scholarship to sit on the bench, so expect both to start immediately in 2020. But it goes without saying that one bad snap, or botched punt, could flip an entire season.

As for the returners, at this point, that’s a matter of speculation. Fuller was UW’s full-time punt returner each of the past two seasons, while Sean McGrew and Salvon Ahmed handled most kick returns in 2019. McGrew is certainly a candidate to do so again, but beyond that, the roles will go to the players who most impress in practices this offseason. Bynum has some of the surest hands on the roster, while Gordon — as previously noted — may be UW’s most dynamic all-around athlete.

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