Cornerbacks can be reclusive, by nature. It’s one of the few positions in football where players are often isolated away from teammates on the field.
Figuratively they operate on an island, which bolsters the perception that they’re loners in a game that bills itself as the ultimate team sport.
In general, Marcus Peters, who has played the position since he was an adolescent, agrees with the stereotype.
However, these days the Washington cornerback and self-described introvert is working hard at being more outgoing and building chemistry among a young Husky defensive backfield.
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“Cornerbacks come in all sizes, shapes and personalities,” said the 6-foot, 190-pound junior who earned second-team All-Pac-12 last year while starting 12 of 13 games.
“Some guys are brash and cocky and they want that attention. Some guys are showmen, like entertainers who are out there putting on a show for the fans. … But yeah, you do tend to find a lot of (cornerbacks) are guys who for the most part stick to themselves. We play one-on-one a lot of times with the receivers, so we’re off doing our own thing.”
Due to his seniority status in a UW secondary that includes three new starters — redshirt freshman cornerback Jermaine Kelly, sophomore strong safety Trevor Walker and sophomore free safety Brandon Beaver — Peters has been thrust into a leadership position for the first time in his college career.
It’s a new role with new responsibilities, and admittedly, he’s a little unsure about when to give advice and when to let the newcomers learn for themselves. So Peters has adopted a lead-by-example approach.
“When the ball is in the air, I got to make that play,” he said. “Because when I’m making plays and doing my job and competing at a high level, I think the younger guys can pick up on that energy and they can play at a high level too.”
Still, it’s not enough to shut down his man. Peters feels responsible for the secondary, which is why he’s watching video with Walker and Beaver. He’s sharing trade secrets with Kelly. And he’s reached out to freshman defensive backs Budda Baker and Naijiel Hale, who are working with the second defensive unit.
“It’s a very young season and we’re barely a week into this, but so far he’s been an exceptional leader,” defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. “He’s led by example. He’s come to work every single day. He takes great notes in meetings. He asks amazing questions. And he rarely makes mistakes on the football field. As long as he does that day in and day out, all of these young guys are going to be looking to him on how to do things.”
Give a lot of credit to new coach Chris Petersen.
Since arriving from Boise State, he has stressed the importance of creating turnovers, and Peters — who had five interceptions last season — leads the Huskies in picks during football camp, which hit Day 9 on Tuesday.
“It’s a big, big emphasis around here,” Peters said.
Petersen has also preached unity and camaraderie.
“One heartbeat, all the time,” he yelled one day last week while scolding the team and punishing them with extra conditioning after failing to operate in unison during a post-practice huddle.
Petersen has urged veterans to mentor underclassmen. Lockers and seating arrangements at meals are organized by the coaching staff to push interaction between players who wouldn’t normally speak to each other.
For the soft-spoken Peters, the changes forced him out of his shell. Last season, he was the youngest member in a veteran secondary. As a freshman, he was mostly silent while Desmond Trufant, a first-round NFL draft pick last year, did most of the talking.
But this year, Peters is the old man in the group.
“Marcus is more of a vocal leader than ever before,” Walker said. “He’s gotten closer to the guys and talking to everyone more. He’s a laid-back person who keeps to himself and keeps to his group of people, but he’s expanding out and just getting to know everybody — talking to everyone and making everyone feel comfortable in the secondary.”
Peters talking is a good thing for the Huskies, who will face a litany of star quarterbacks such as Oregon’s Marcus Mariota and UCLA’s Brett Hundley – both Heisman Trophy candidates – as well as Oregon State’s Sean Mannion, Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, Arizona State’s Taylor Kelly and Washington State’s Connor Halliday.
Considering the inexperience in the UW defensive backfield, it remains to be seen how much opposing quarterbacks will target Peters, who is projected as a first-round choice in the 2015 NFL draft.
He’s also one of 39 players named to the preseason watch list for the Jim Thorpe Award, which recognizes the nation’s top DB.
“I don’t know if they (opposing quarterbacks) will come my way, but when they do I have to be ready,” Peters said. “And when they don’t, I trust our young guys will make plays.”
• Eastside Catholic High School’s Brandon Wellington, considered the state’s top recruit for the Class of 2016, made a verbal commitment to the Huskies on Tuesday. The 6-foot, 220-pound Wellington is being recruited as both a running back and outside linebacker. He chose UW over offers from Washington State, Oregon State and Colorado.
Over the weekend, the Huskies picked up their ninth recruiting commitment for the Class of 2015 from wide receiver Andre Baccellia of Westlake High School (Westlake Village, Calif.). Baccellia, a Scout.com three-star recruit, chose UW over Washington State.