In three seasons and 19 games at cornerback, Dominique Hampton failed to make a start and tallied a total of nine tackles with zero sacks or interceptions.
But can a new position unlock his potential?
That certainly appeared to be the case last month as Hampton — a redshirt junior from Glendale, Arizona — earned rave reviews in his first spring at safety.
“Dom’s been having a heck of a camp so far,” UW defensive backs coach Will Harris said after an April practice. “You guys see we moved him to safety, (to provide) more of that physical presence as far as his body size goes. But I’d say more of an understanding of the game as far as safety goes and coming up and watching a lot of tape and spending a lot of time with myself and (assistant defensive backs coach Terrence) Brown (has really helped him).”
At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Hampton certainly looks the part — with the muscle to provide punishing run support and the speed to help in coverage against wide receivers and tight ends.
But spring stars don’t always succeed in September.
Meanwhile, three UW safeties — juniors Cameron Williams and Asa Turner and senior Alex Cook — have started games in Seattle. So, when Washington hosts Montana on Sept. 4, who will provide the last line of defense?
Let’s take a look at UW’s post-spring depth chart for safety and special teams.
Dominique Hampton, junior, 6-2, 225, Glendale, Ariz.
Asa Turner, junior, 6-3, 210, Carlsbad, Calif.
Alex Cook, senior, 6-1, 195, Sacramento, Calif.
Jacobe Covington, redshirt freshman, 6-2, 200, Chandler, Ariz.
Cameron Williams, junior, 6-0, 190, Bakersfield, Calif.
Julius Irvin, junior, 6-1, 185, Anaheim, Calif.
Makell Esteen, redshirt freshman, 6-1, 180, Hawthorne, Calif.
Peyton Henry, senior, 6-0, 200, Danville, Calif.
Tim Horn, junior, 6-3, 220, Honolulu, Hawaii
Race Porter, senior, 6-3, 190, Seattle (O’Dea)
Jaden Green, sophomore, 5-10, 215, Gilbert, Ariz.
Sean McGrew, senior, 5-7, 180, Torrance, Calif.
Kyler Gordon, junior, 6-0, 190, Mukilteo
Trent McDuffie, junior, 5-11, 195, Westminster, Calif.
Rome Odunze, redshirt freshman, 6-3, 200, Las Vegas
Jalen McMillan, redshirt freshman, 6-1, 190, Fresno, Calif.
Six players — Dominique Hampton, Cameron Williams, Asa Turner, Alex Cook, Julius Irvin and Brendan Radley-Hiles — could realistically start at safety in 2021. Of that group, Williams and Turner are the most established talents, toting 16 combined starts since 2019. Cook — a converted wide receiver — also started three of four games last season but failed to stand out in the most significant opportunity of his college career.
It’s worth noting that both Turner and Cook were limited through much of the spring due to injury, which made it difficult to assess where they stand alongside the other Husky safeties.
The wild card of this group is the 6-1, 185-pound Irvin, a redshirt junior who arrived in 2018 as a highly touted four-star recruit but has contributed just two total tackles in 12 career games. Still, the Anaheim, California, product flashed in the second half of the spring and was one of the more consistent hitters in the Purple vs. Gold game as well.
“Julius has had a really good camp. He’s taken strides mentally,” Brown said. “One thing that we stress in our room is, when you really start to understand the game mentally and increase your football IQ, you’ll feel that the game will slow down. I think he’s really bought into that – watching extra tape, doing extra stuff out there on the field. I actually just came in from doing extra stuff with him out there on the field.
“We’re excited about him. I know he’s excited about where he is right now in terms of his development, and we’re looking for some good things from him in the future.”
Added Husky coach Jimmy Lake: “Julius Irvin is playing his best football since he arrived on campus. He’s from the same class as Kyler Gordon, and he’s probably saying to himself, ‘Why not me? Why can’t I be the guy to go out there and start and be the next great defensive back at the University of Washington?’ He’s been out there flying around, making plays. Now he’s just got to be more consistent and just keep doing it.”
Senior nickelback and Oklahoma transfer Brendan Radley-Hiles also practiced sparingly at safety in the spring, and it’s possible he could slide back to the position — as departed nickel standouts Myles Bryant and Elijah Molden have both done in the past.
A pair of redshirt freshmen in Makell Esteen and Jacobe Covington both made plays at times last month, but it’d be a surprise to see them surpass their most experienced competition — especially considering Covington has fluctuated between cornerback and safety. Incoming freshman Vince Nunley is likely headed for a redshirt season as well.
As for special teams, UW brings back its starting place-kicker (Peyton Henry), punter (Race Porter) and long snapper (Jaden Green). Still, Henry converted just 6 of 9 field-goal attempts last season, and it’s possible (though somewhat unlikely) junior Tim Horn could threaten at that position with a strong fall camp.
“Those are two guys we have a lot of confidence in, Tim Horn and Peyton Henry. I’m excited that we have two quality kickers on our football team,” Lake said last month.
As long as he can stay healthy, expect junior cornerback Trent McDuffie to earn punt-return reps after showing a nice burst at times last season. And though Sean McGrew and Kyler Gordon were the primary kick returners this spring, wide receiver transfer Giles Jackson — who averaged 26.4 yards per kick return with two touchdowns in his past two seasons at Michigan — will likely assume those duties after arriving in Seattle this summer.