Alex Cook is still here.
In his first five seasons in Seattle, the Sacramento native has played wide receiver (sparingly), before switching to safety in 2019. He has sat, then started. He has excelled on special teams. He has watched one coach resign, and another be hired … then fired. He has won a lot, then lost a lot.
Now, it’s time to lead.
“When I told myself I was going to come back, I said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got to step up and be the leader now.’ That was really one of the main reasons I wanted to stay,” Cook said Monday, following UW’s third practice of the spring. “I didn’t have a leadership role, and there was no point in me leaving (to transfer) if I wasn’t a leader at the place I was before.
“I felt I owed UW that. I owed this program that, to display my leadership skills and be there for every single person on the team.”
So Cook is going to lead.
But who is he leading? And who’s leading him?
Regarding the latter, Cook called new co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach Chuck Morrell “one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever met.”
As for first-year head coach Kalen DeBoer?
“We’ll put it this way: coach DeBoer has never said a curse word. I’ve never heard him curse. I’ve never seen him raise his voice,” Cook said. “He demands everybody’s attention. I don’t know how, but he grabs everybody’s attention. There’s a level of respect that everybody on the team has for him, and that was the same way with coach (Chris Petersen). Coach Pete didn’t have to raise his voice. He didn’t have to curse or anything like that.”
But back to the beginning: who’s Cook leading?
Without departed cornerbacks Trent McDuffie and Kyler Gordon and nickelback Brendan Radley-Hiles, UW’s secondary suddenly looks a whole lot different this spring. A slew of safeties — namely Cook, Asa Turner, Cameron Williams and Julius Irvin — all return.
But the cornerback competition is undeniably compelling.
“It’s going to be an untested spot for us a little bit, but I think there’s also talent in the room,” Morrell said last week. “I think some of those guys have had fantastic offseason training segments here. I think Mishael Powell stuck out right away. Obviously coach DeBoer put him on scholarship first day in the building, and he’s been very productive. He had some productive runs last year, and man, he hasn’t looked back. He’s definitely been one of those guys that’s been a leader for that group.
“I think Elijah Jackson has tremendous upside and he’s a hungry young player that’s willing to get after it. Then Jordan Perryman grad transferred in for us. He’s very experienced. Probably right now, strength-wise and speed-wise, he’s one of our pound-for-pound fastest and strongest players on the defensive side of the ball. I hate to leave anybody out, but that’s a competitive group right now.”
To date, Powell, Perryman, Jackson and sophomore Jacobe Covington appear to be the primary contenders at cornerback. Last week, when asked about Powell, corners coach Juice Brown said “I don’t know if I’ve been around a harder working kid in my coaching career.”
“He’s the one. Nothing more to say about it. Mish is the one,” Radley-Hiles added after UW’s pro day. “He just works so hard, and he’s disciplined. He’s a great person. He’s a great spirit to be around, a great teammate, great brother. So it’s hard not to like him.”
Powell could pair well with Perryman — a 6-0, 198-pound senior and FCS All-American from UC Davis.
“We had Jimmy Smith at Colorado, who’s played 12 years for the Ravens,” UC Davis coach Dan Hawkins told The Times in February. “Jimmy might have a little bit more length and a little bit more speed, but (Perryman) could have come out early (in the NFL draft) if he wanted to.
“He’s dynamic. He can press. He’s physical enough to get up in guys, even if they’re bigger receivers, and manhandle those guys. And he’s got ball skills when it goes past him. I told Juice when he asked me if he could play there, ‘There’s no question he can play there.’”
Added Cook, regarding Perryman: “This dude is physical as can be. He’s big as hell, excuse my language. His personality just fits the team. Once we get rolling, you’ll see. He’s going to have a breakout season.”
So, too, might a collection of cornerbacks who have yet to produce on the Pac-12 level. Junior Dominique Hampton and sophomore Kamren Fabiculanan continue to compete at the hybrid nickel/linebacker “husky” position, while one veteran safety has also made significant strides.
“Man, Asa’s been on a mission ever since the end of the season,” Cook said of 6-3, 200-pound junior Asa Turner. “Asa was the (top) lifter of the entire winter competition. I hate to admit this, but he’s the first one here and the last one out.
“I usually try to do that, but Asa usually beats me here, and he’s always usually the last one here. If you come back here in seven hours, he’ll still be here, working. That just says a lot about him. Everybody notices it. It’s showing up on the film. He’s got a bright future.”
It’s unclear if the UW secondary’s future is as bright as its immediate past. Nine defensive backs were drafted in the Jimmy Lake Era, and McDuffie and Gordon will add to that legacy later this month. UW also ranked first nationally in both passing defense (142.9 yards allowed per game) and opponent yards per pass attempt (5.4) last fall.
It’s true, Lake recruited and developed those players; he oversaw their success.
But Cook insists the standard outlasts any coaching staff.
“As a DB unit, we always told ourselves, ‘It doesn’t matter who’s coaching us, who’s up in the offices. We’re going to hold the same standards,’” he said. “The standards we created weren’t created by the coaches. They were created by the players, and that’s something we take to heart. That’s something we talk about, we preach, and that’s something we practice every single day.”
After shifting from left guard this offseason, 6-6, 344-pound junior Ulumoo Ale is working to establish himself in the middle of UW’s defensive line. “He’s going to be a big nose, try to be a guy who can hold the point and give us what he can,” defensive line coach Inoke Breckterfield said Monday. “This is his third practice, and he’s showed some stuff. He’s got some twitch to him. He’s got to find his role in terms of how many reps can he go. He’s got to get in better shape, and he’s got to lose a little weight. He’s about 345 right now. I’d like him at 330. But we don’t play until September and he needs that time to work himself into a defensive lineman, size-wise.”
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