In his 24 years as an NFL assistant and defensive coordinator, former UW Huskies standout and Tacoma native Ray Horton has coached cornerbacks the likes of Hall of Famer Darrell Green and certain Hall of Famer-to-be Patrick Peterson.
But when Horton searches for a comparison for new Seahawk Quinton Dunbar, a player he coached last season as the defensive-backs coach for Washington, Horton lands on a player who will forever be associated with his home state — former Seahawk Richard Sherman.
It’s a comparison that’s become common since Dunbar was acquired by Seattle in a trade last week with Washington for a 2020 fifth-round pick.
Dunbar has a similar frame to Sherman, standing 6 feet 2 and weighing 202. (Sherman is 6-3, 195.)
Like Sherman, Dunbar was originally a receiver in college at Florida before making the switch to corner during his first year with Washington in 2015. (Sherman moved over to defense for the final two seasons of his college career.)
And like Sherman, Dunbar fits the well-used NFL description of “having length’’ — Dunbar’s arms have been measured at 32-5/8 inches while Sherman’s are exactly 32 inches.
But if it’s a comparison that Horton knows also comes weighted with expectations – especially in Seattle – it’s one he makes because he thinks it’s the one that fits best, both in terms of playing style and potential.
“To me, it would be Richard Sherman,’’ Horton said in a phone interview this week. “Because of the style of play, the hands, the anticipation, the (being a) former wide receiver, the competitiveness. Really, that’s what you are getting is a young Richard Sherman. And this kid is hungry. He wants to be good.’’
Horton, in fact, heard from Dunbar shortly after the trade was made on Monday. “He’s excited. He is looking for a new beginning, if you will, with a very good team that has a chance to win.’’
Dunbar didn’t have that much in Washington, where the team won as many as nine games only once in his five seasons. He also had let it be known he wanted a new contract — he is set to make $3.25 million in 2020 in the final year of a three-year deal signed on Jan. 1, 2018.
In an interview this week on 710 ESPN Seattle, though, Dunbar said it wasn’t just the contract that made him want out of Washington,
“It was about just, basically, I gave a lot to the Washington organization,’’ Dunbar said. “It was more just a respect factor in that situation with the contract. It didn’t have to be based solely on an extension or anything like that. But no, it’s not going to be an issue in Seattle.”
Horton, who was a stalwart of UW’s secondaries on teams that made the Rose Bowl in the 1980 and 1981 seasons, agrees, saying all Dunbar wants is to be one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL.
“He’s not a problem,’’ said Horton, who played 10 years in the NFL with the Bengals and Dallas after his UW career, winning a Super Bowl ring with the Cowboys in 1992. “He’s a joy to work with. He works hard, he pushes himself, and he pushes his teammates. But there’s nothing wrong with that kind of a player. You want that kind of a player.’’
And the reality is that Dunbar, a 27-year-old Miami native, also was looking at starting over even if he stayed in Washington, after the team just hired Ron Rivera as its new coach. Horton, who was hired in January 2019 as defensive-backs coach after previously serving as defensive coordinator with the Browns, was not retained in the coaching change and says for now he considers himself retired.
Horton said he quickly learned last year about another trait of Dunbar’s that he also shares with Sherman — uncommon football smarts.
“I’ve coached some Hall of Fame players, Pro Bowl players, and as far as cornerbacks, he’s probably one of the smartest guys I’ve had,’’ Horton said. “And I think part of that is because he was a wide receiver, so he understands offensive football very well. And what I mean by that is he understands formations. He would come in on Wednesdays each week, the first day we are back, and as we were watching film he would tell you the route. He would say ‘this is that play and this is that play.’ He understands what he sees so brilliantly.’’
Dunbar had played just seven games in 2018, the year before Horton arrived, due to a nerve issue in his lower leg that landed him on Injured Reserve.
But recovered from that in 2019, he took to Horton’s tutelage to have what was regarded as a breakthrough season before he suffered a hamstring injury that limited him to 11 games, allowing a passer rating of just 68.2 when targeted, down from 100.2 the year before.
That ranked him 31st among all defensive players in the NFL last season, according to Pro Football Reference, and was one of the lowest in the league among cornerbacks. Sherman was just slightly better, at 64.1 while Seattle’s two cornerbacks, Tre Flowers and Shaquill Griffin, were at 72.5 and 97.3, respectively.
Dunbar’s arrival has sparked much debate over how Seattle plans to use him, with the most obvious thought that he will compete with Flowers for the starting right cornerback spot. With Griffin entering the last year of his rookie contract, adding Dunbar also gives Seattle some options in how it fits its secondary together in future seasons while presenting the question of whether Seattle will extend both Griffin and Dunbar next year or just one.
For 2020, there is also the thought that Seattle could get all three on the field in some nickel packages.
“He’s got a lot of position flexibility,’’ Horton said. “… You wouldn’t want him on the small (Julian) Edelman-type guy. That’s not his deal. He’s just too tall. But he can play inside. He can play on tight ends. He can play left. He can play right.’’
Horton also said not to worry about Seattle’s use of a “step-kick’’ technique — taking a step sideways at the snap and then turning to run, or “kicking,” once the receiver starts to sprint — for its cornerbacks, which is a staple of the Pete Carroll system and not something used by every team in the NFL.
Horton didn’t teach the step-kick, saying he let his cornerbacks use whatever they felt most comfortable with as long as it worked.
But Dunbar said in the 710 ESPN Seattle interview he is familiar with it from work he has done with former Seahawk Marquand Manuel, who also is from Miami and played at Florida, and later coached for Seattle under Carroll from 2012-14.
Horton said the step-kick will be “no problem’’ for Dunbar. “He is so long, his reach, his anticipation,” Horton said. “He can play man, he can play off.’’
And then, again, came a comparison to Sherman, one Horton said is simply impossible to resist.
“You are getting that type of player,’’ Horton said. ‘’They are going to love this kid.’’