Cameron Williams is one of several safeties competing for starting reps this fall.
Sunday, the sophomore from Bakersfield, Calif., made a positive impression.
Specifically, Williams snared a pair of interceptions against quarterback Dylan Morris and Washington’s first-team offense — settling under a sailed pass intended for tight end Cade Otton up the seam, then ranging to his left to cut off wide receiver Rome Odunze and pull in a leaping grab.
Through three practices, defensive backs coaches Will Harris and Terrence Brown have continued to cycle through different starting safeties. Sunday, Williams was a mainstay with the first-team defense, while both Asa Turner and Julius Irvin worked in beside him. Dominique Hampton and Alex Cook have both received starting reps as well.
And while Williams won the day, he isn’t the only safety who made a play Sunday. After graduate transfer quarterback Patrick O’Brien found Odunze for a significant gain in a seven-on-seven drill, Hampton ripped the ball out and it was returned by cornerback Kyler Gordon.
In a unit where the starting defensive linemen, inside linebackers and cornerbacks seem essentially settled, it’ll be interesting to monitor the safety competition throughout the fall — as well as similar battles at nickelback and outside linebacker.
While sixth-year outside linebacker Ryan Bowman has essentially been established as a starter, redshirt freshman Bralen Trice and second-year freshmen Sav’ell Smalls and Cooper McDonald have each worked in with the ones on the opposite side (with Trice earning those honors Sunday).
Smalls and Texas A&M transfer outside linebacker Jeremiah Martin tag-teamed to force a turnover with the second-team Sunday, as Smalls’ pressure caused O’Brien to throw an easy interception directly to Martin.
At nickelback, junior Brendan “Bookie” Radley-Hiles and redshirt freshman Kamren Fabiculanan continue to alternate with the starters — and “Bookie” surged Sunday with a sack on Morris off a blitz.
Here are some other observations from UW’s third fall practice, the first spectators have been invited to attend.
Assessing the running backs
Washington has seven scholarship running backs on its roster, and each have flashed at times during the program’s first three fall practices.
While Richard Newton and Cameron Davis were the primary starters both Friday and Saturday, senior Sean McGrew — who had been working primarily with the second team — officially joined the fray Sunday. True freshman Caleb Berry showed the most burst I’ve seen from him while operating with the third-team offense, and second-year freshmen Sam Adams II and Jay’Veon Sunday have each showed promise as well.
Knowing UW running-backs coach Keith Bhonapha, the ability to pass protect will go a long way in deciding which tailbacks eventually find the field. In a one-on-one pass protection drill Sunday — in which a tailback is tasked with stoning a blitzing inside linebacker — Newton, Kamari Pleasant and Davis appeared the most comfortable protecting their quarterback. Adams and Sunday each struggled at times, hardly a surprise for young running backs.
Ultimately, some combination of Newton, Davis, McGrew and Pleasant likely will earn the lion’s share of work for a second consecutive season. But Bhonapha and Co. have to be happy about the depth and talent in the running backs room.
Opposite endings for O’Brien
O’Brien unleashed a pair of picturesque deep balls Sunday. After side-stepping a Jacobe Covington blitz, he hurled a pass down the left sideline that Texas Tech transfer wide receiver Ja’Lynn Polk leaped to rip away from safety Asa Turner for a 42-yard gain. From a degree-of-difficulty standpoint, it probably was the most impressive offensive play of UW’s first three practices.
But it wouldn’t be replicated. With a clean pocket, O’Brien also uncorked a rainbow intended for wide receiver Terrell Bynum — who was streaking in close coverage down the right sideline. But this time, cornerback Trent McDuffie located the football in the air and batted it away in the end zone — decisively denying a 40-yard touchdown.
Realistically, the difference was McDuffie — who has looked like one of the best corners in the country in the first three days of fall camp.
- When UW employed three simultaneous defensive linemen Sunday, redshirt freshman Faatui Tuitele worked with starters Tuli Letuligasenoa and Sam “Taki” Taimani. Redshirt freshman Jacob Bandes has previously earned that nod as well. And while Letuligasenoa, Taimani, Tuitele and Bandes seem to be the clear top four on the defensive line, UW defensive coordinator Bob Gregory offered high praise for true freshman Kuao Peihopa after practice Sunday. While he’ll still likely redshirt, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound Peihopa is certainly one to watch.
- Despite his two interceptions Sunday, Morris led the UW offense on its most impressive drive. The redshirt freshman from Puyallup found Otton for back-to-back 15-yard gains, and later located Bynum on a hitch for 15 more yards. Facing third-and-goal from the 3-yard line, UW head coach Jimmy Lake called a 5-yard procedure penalty, and Morris was flushed out of the pocket and forced to throw the ball away to end the drive. Even so, Peyton Henry knocked through a 25-yard field goal.
- Inside linebacker Alphonzo Tuputala and cornerbacks Davon Banks and Dyson McCutcheon all continued to watch practice with apparent injuries, while tight end Quentin Moore was limited and held out of scrimmage drills.
- Letuligasenoa and second-year freshman outside linebacker Jordan Lolohea both collapsed the pocket for impressive tackles for loss.
- Bowman ran down Morris for a sack during a scrimmage period.
- Inside linebacker Jackson Sirmon provided some impressive coverage on tight end Jack Westover on one particular play, tracking Westover down the seam before batting the pass away for an incompletion.
- True freshman corner Zakhari Spears continues to flash at times. Sunday, the 6-1 defensive back showed off a nice vertical in breaking up a Sam Huard pass intended for freshman wide receiver Jabez Tinae.
- Henry knocked through both of his field-goal attempts Sunday, while fellow kicker Tim Horn went 0 for 2.