Since 2014, the names have changed — but the standard remains.

First as defensive-backs coach, then co-defensive coordinator, then defensive coordinator, then head coach, Jimmy Lake has developed NFL defensive backs — overseeing the operation like the unblinking eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg. One by one, they’ve stuck to the standard, then left a void to be filled by the next ascending UW DB.

Budda Baker. Kevin King. Sidney Jones. Byron Murphy. Taylor Rapp. Jordan Miller. Myles Bryant.

Now, add Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor to the list.

In 2021, Washington’s secondary will again seek to maintain the same standard without several of its stars.

With that said, let’s close our position primer series by taking a look at the Husky secondary and special teams.


Who’s back


Trent McDuffie, so., 5-11, 195

Kyler Gordon, rs.-so., 6-0, 195

Jacobe Covington, fr., 6-2, 195

Elijah Jackson, fr., 6-1, 185

James Smith, fr., 6-1, 190


Kamren Fabiculanan, rs.-fr., 6-1, 185

Julius Irvin, rs.-so, 6-1, 185


Asa Turner, so., 6-3, 200

Alex Cook, rs.-jr., 6-1, 200

Cameron Williams, so., 6-0, 190

Dominique Hampton, rs.-so., 6-2, 220

Makell Esteen, fr., 6-1, 180

Who’s out

Elijah Molden

Keith Taylor

Brandon McKinney

Who’s new


Zakhari Spears, fr., 6-2, 190


Dyson McCutcheon, fr., 5-11, 175


Vince Nunley, fr., 6-1, 190

Outlook: Unsurprisingly, UW’s secondary was the class of the west coast in 2020 — allowing just 185 passing yards per game (first in the Pac-12 and 13th nationally) and 6.3 yards per pass attempt (first Pac-12, 10th nationally). And the Huskies would have been even better had their backups not surrendered four touchdowns in the fourth quarter of a blowout win over Arizona on Nov. 21. Simply put, they succeeded yet again by denying opposing offenses explosive passing plays.

Now, they’ll attempt to replicate that success without starters at nickelback (Molden) and cornerback (Taylor).


Molden’s presence, specifically, will be hard to replace. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound nickel from West Linn, Oregon, did just about everything — contributing 79 tackles, 17 passes defended, 5.5 tackles for loss, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in UW’s last full season in 2019.

But UW does bring back another potential first-round pick in sophomore Trent McDuffie — who could conceivably succeed at either corner or safety. The 5-11, 195-pounder was named to the All-Pac-12 second team in 2020 after registering 14 tackles with 1.5 tackles for loss, one interception and one forced fumble in four games, most of which he spent watching opposing offenses purposefully avoid him.

The real question is what Washington will do with uniquely athletic redshirt sophomore Kyler Gordon, who started one game at nickelback last season and four more at corner in 2019. Gordon’s quickness and ability to change directions would seem to fit at nickel, where redshirt sophomore Julius Irvin or redshirt freshman Kamren Fabiculanan could also vie for playing time.

Should Gordon stick at nickel, second-year freshman Jacobe Covington — a 2020 four-star signee — could threaten at the open corner spot. And it will be interesting to see whether incoming freshmen Zakhari Spears and Dyson McCutcheon can carve out roles in their first fall on campus.

On the back end, UW brings back three safeties with starting experience — sophomores Asa Turner and Cameron Williams and redshirt junior Alex Cook. Still, the Huskies experimented with their safety starters throughout 2020 — with Cook initially earning the job, before Williams reemerged in the rotation. Molden even dropped back to safety on occasion, which spoke to the staff’s possible dissatisfaction with the Huskies’ safety play.

As for surprises, keep an eye on redshirt sophomore Dominique Hampton. After failing to crack the rotation at corner, Hampton — who, coincidentally, is up to 220 pounds — could realistically try his hand at safety.


Suddenly, there are more questions in the UW secondary than there have been in recent seasons.


Who’s back


Peyton Henry, rs.-jr., 5-11, 195

Tim Horn, so., 6-2, 205


Race Porter, sr., 6-2, 190

Triston Brown, jr., 6-1, 195

Kick return

Sean McGrew, sr., 5-7, 175

Kyler Gordon, rs.-so., 6-0, 195

Punt return

Trent McDuffie, so., 5-11, 195

Kyler Gordon, rs.-so., 6-0, 195

Long snapper

Jaden Green, fr., 5-10, 205

Outlook: UW returns every special teams starter in 2021.

But that may not solve a considerable list of problems.

Redshirt junior placekicker Peyton Henry, for example, was shaky last fall — connecting on six of nine field goals and 13 of 14 extra points, after converting 19 of 21 field goals the season before. And, more concerning, UW ranked 116th nationally in kickoff coverage (25.54 yards per return) and 124th in punt coverage (21.33 yards per return). Just 24% of the Huskies’ kickoffs resulted in a touchback (93rd nationally). The coverage issues specifically point to a collective lack of effort and/or discipline, which — without an elite kicker or punter — could nag them again in 2021.

On the other side, UW brings back some intriguing return options — including McDuffie (who impressed as a punt returner in short bursts in 2020) and Gordon (who Lake said they’d like to utilize more on special teams). Freshman defensive back Dyson McCutcheon has the explosiveness and vision to potentially find the field as a returner as well.

Sixth-year senior Race Porter is the odds-on favorite to hold the starting punter spot for a second consecutive season, though junior Triston Brown could also contend for the gig. And, after the first snap of his college career shot over Porter’s head and was returned for a touchdown against Oregon State, freshman long snapper Jaden Green eventually found his footing — and should remain in that role for the next three to four seasons.  

All things considered, UW’s special teams were too inconsistent for comfort in 2020.

Special-teams coordinator Bob Gregory needs some familiar faces to take significant strides.