Two eras were on display inside the Dempsey Center on Tuesday.
A year after Jimmy Lake declared on NFL Network during UW’s 2021 pro day that “you’re going to continue to see NFL draft picks come out of the University of Washington,” 11 of his Huskies completed drills for assembled coaches and scouts.
Lake just wasn’t there to see it.
Instead, Kalen DeBoer — his successor as the Huskies’ head coach — drifted in the background from drill to drill, stopping to chat with players and scouts. His assistants also attended Tuesday’s pro day, and current players lined the outside fences to support their former teammates.
Defensive backs Trent McDuffie, Kyler Gordon and Brendan Radley-Hiles, running backs Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant, offensive lineman Luke Wattenberg, outside linebacker Ryan Bowman, tight end Cade Otton, punter Race Porter, quarterback Patrick O’Brien and former wide receiver Quinten Pounds all participated to some degree in Tuesday’s pro day. (Idaho State wide receiver and Kent native Tanner Conner participated as well.)
Most returned to a familiar place with unfamiliar faces.
“It’s different, for sure, coming back and not knowing any of the staff, seeing some new players — transfers and new players coming in as freshmen,” said McDuffie, widely regarded as a first-round pick in next month’s NFL draft. “But the team is still the team, and I enjoy it. Going into the locker room, everyone is still smiling. Everybody is just them.
“It’s cool seeing them go through this transition. I know it’s going to take some time. It’s going to be difficult here and there. But if the team sticks together, they’re going to be in for a very good ride.”
The 5-foot-11, 193-pound McDuffie registered a 38.5-inch vertical jump and 15 bench-press reps of 225 pounds, but declined to run the 40-yard dash after doing so in 4.44 seconds at the NFL combine. Gordon — another candidate to be taken in the top two rounds — also declined to run, but posted impressive results in the vertical jump (39.5 inches) and bench press (20 reps).
And yet, it wasn’t enough.
“I’m not going to lie, I was hoping for more,” Gordon said of his vertical jump, an unsurprising statement considering his 42.5-inch jump in 2019. “I’ve definitely jumped higher before. It is what it is. I know there’s something still in the tank for sure.”
McGrew feels the same way about his 40-yard dash, which timed unofficially at 4.60 seconds.
But considering the sprained ankle that shortened his 2021 season, any results could be considered encouraging.
“I’m just happy I was able to come out here and compete, because I know for the first month and a half of this new year I couldn’t run or jump or really do anything,” McGrew said Tuesday. “I was just trying to get healthy from this past season.”
That process continues for Otton, who missed the final four games of his college career with a broken fibula and a high ankle sprain. The Tumwater tight end posted 17 bench press reps of 225 pounds on Tuesday, but declined to participate in the other drills while his rehab continues.
“It’s not ideal to get injured,” he said. “There’s never a good time for it, but it’s definitely been a big perspective thing. You just kind of realize how much you love something when you’re not able to do it for a little bit. So I’ve loved the opportunity to get as healthy as I can and work on football. The process is coming along great, getting better. I started running a little bit. So I’m looking forward to getting back soon to running full speed.”
Of course, the Otton family transcends both eras — as tight end Ryan Otton, Cade’s younger brother, is set to enroll in Seattle this summer. And Cade — who spent several minutes talking with DeBoer on the field Tuesday — has had a positive first impression of the new-look coaching staff.
“They’ve been awesome, very hospitable to all the guys that were here last year and all the former Husky players, which has been super cool to see,” Otton said. “When you feel welcomed back to the program, it’s a really cool thing.
“I was just talking to the guys in the locker room. They’ve loved it. There’s been some good changes. They’re really excited for spring ball, to see how it looks on the field. But so far this offseason I love what coach DeBoer is doing with the program.”
Added McGrew, referring to his former teammates: “They’re all buying in and they’re excited, so I’m excited to see what’s to come. It seems like there’s a good storm brewing here.”
It’ll be telling whether that’s true of UW’s defensive backs, after Lake and position coaches Will Harris and Terrence Brown all departed this offseason. Seven UW DBs have been drafted since Lake arrived as Chris Petersen’s defensive backs coach in 2014, with McDuffie and Lake set to join that list next month. The Huskies also ranked first nationally in pass defense (142.9 yards allowed per game) and opponent yards per pass attempt (5.4) in 2021.
McDuffie, for one, said he’s spoken with Lake “a few times” since the coach’s firing — “just normal stuff, how he’s doing, relationships, family. He’s doing good. We’re on good terms there. I love that guy still. That’s still my coach.”
But now that he’s no longer the coach at UW, will UW’s defensive back excellence endure?
“All the guys in the DB room know what the standard is. It’s kind of just ingrained in us. It’s just our DNA,” McDuffie said. “So I think we’re going to continue the transition. They’re going to continue the culture, DBU, all that. Because you just look back at the years past, and they can just watch everybody that’s been in front of them and take what they’ve done.
“We’re always here. We’re always going to be around. We’re always here for the freshmen who want questions answered, things like that. Without a doubt, DBU is still going to be here at UW.”
Pac-12 to leave San Francisco headquarters
The Pac-12 Conference announced Tuesday that it plans to forego its permanent headquarters in San Francisco in favor of “an ongoing flexible and remote work environment to best support Pac-12 staff and deliver more revenue back to member universities to support student-athletes,” according to a release.
The conference will also relocate its broadcast and content operations to a new production facility when its current lease expires in June 2023. The location for the new facility has yet to be determined.
“The Pac-12 is committed to best supporting our employees by providing a work environment that accommodates today’s modern world and gives our employees maximum flexibility to live and work where they want, while still fostering collaboration among staff and our valued member institutions,” Pac-12 commissioner George Kliavkoff said in a statement.
“We are also committed to ongoing best-in-class production of Pac-12 events. We are excited for what this new remote and flexible work environment can do to support our employees, and for the new ways it will allow for us to reinvest in our member universities so that they can best support student-athletes.”