Trent McDuffie does not fit the mold.
Kevin King is the mold. Sidney Jones is the mold. Keith Taylor, Dominique Hampton, Asa Turner, Jacobe Covington, Julius Irvin, Makell Esteen, Elijah Jackson: they are the mold.
UW head coach Jimmy Lake even acknowledged it last week, saying “you see the DBs. We always like long guys, bigger guys.”
McDuffie is not one of those guys.
And yet, when it’s all said and done, he may be the guy in the Huskies’ secondary.
The statistics say the same. In a phenomenal freshman season, McDuffie — all 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds of him — started the last 11 games and totaled 45 tackles, three passes defended, three fumble recoveries, two forced fumbles and an interception. He was also credited with just one missed tackle and surrendered a measly six passes of 15-plus yards on 421 coverage snaps. The former St. John Bosco High School standout was ranked as the 12th-most valuable corner in all of FBS as a true freshman.
And it’s not because he has long arms or a physically formidable frame.
It’s because of everything else.
“I think I’m just technique-sound,” McDuffie said on Sunday. “Every day I work on it like it’s a religion out there — making sure my footwork, my technique, my eyes are all as good as they can be. I’m a big perfectionist, so I’m always making sure everything is correct.
“And I’m a big track guy from high school, so I like to use my speed a lot when I’m out there. It’s my extra hand when I’m out there, so I’m able to make plays on the ball.”
Starting against Cal on Nov. 7, McDuffie may be trusted to use his speed in more ways than one. The Westminster, Calif., product is one of three Huskies — along with redshirt sophomore defensive back Kyler Gordon and true freshman wide receiver Rome Odunze — working in the return game for UW.
When asked what fans can expect from his kick and punt returns, McDuffie smiled and said, “You guys are just going to have to see that one for yourselves on game day, to see what I have in store for you guys.”
Added inside linebackers coach Bob Gregory, who also handles the special teams: “Trent is doing really well back there. Rome Odunze, a young kid, is doing well. Kyler Gordon is taking some reps back there. So we haven’t finalized a guy yet, but I do think we have some really exciting guys back there that I think will be better as returners (than in years past). Some really athletic kids.
“They will be new, but I think we have some really good candidates and some good players.”
Levi Onwuzurike is not coming back.
And the 6-3, 293-pound defensive lineman is taking 95 career tackles, 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks with him.
Which means UW is left with three returners — graduate student Josiah Bronson and redshirt sophomores Tuli Letuligasenoa and Sam Taimani — with significant experience on UW’s defensive line. Co-defensive coordinator Ikaika Malloe will be tasked with developing other consistent contributors among a group that includes talented redshirt freshmen Jacob Bandes, Faatui Tuitele and Noa Ngalu.
“Obviously with Levi, what he brought to the table, that’s like two guys trying to combine to be Levi,” Malloe said. “Replacing him will be nearly impossible. But what we can do is build and hopefully find the next Levi up and coming.”
So, of those raw redshirt freshmen, which has the best opportunity to be the next Levi — or close to it — in 2020?
According to Malloe, it’s Bandes — the 6-2, 315-pounder (and former four-star recruit) from Pittsburg, Calif.
“Jacob had a huge step forward (in UW’s scrimmage on Saturday),” Malloe said. “You actually saw him build his confidence throughout the game. He had a really good play which was against our 1s. All the things, the little things that he has done in the offseason, I think slowly he’s starting to build confidence with what he can do — especially against a guy like Luke Wattenberg. I think that’s a really good lineman.
“To be able to have some success, I think he built a lot of confidence yesterday.”
Regardless of where the production comes from, Malloe’s group is looking to improve upon a season where UW finished 28th in rushing defense (126.4 rushing yards per game) and 39th in opponent yards per carry (3.81). There were flashes of physical dominance, and frustrating bouts of inconsistency.
UW’s defensive lineman, Malloe said, are motivated to make some strides.
“It’s a hungry room — a group that is really, really hungry to learn,” he said. “They come to practice every day ready to learn. We’re done with our meetings and then they’ll call me to see if we can do another zoom meeting individually.
“So that’s one thing: I’m very proud of this group.”
Cementing O-line starters
Last week, in no specified order, position coach Scott Huff named Washington’s top 10 offensive lineman as fall camp wears on: Jaxson Kirkland, Luke Wattenberg, Henry Bainivalu, Ulumoo Ale, Victor Curne, Troy Fautanu, Matteo Mele, Nate Kalepo, Corey Luciano and Julius Buelow.
It’s possible those first five also make up UW’s current first team: left tackle Jaxson Kirkland, left guard Ulumoo Ale, center Luke Wattenberg, right guard Henry Bainivalu and right tackle Victor Curne.
But at this point, speculative starters are far from set in stone. As UW attempts to replace left tackle Trey Adams, center Nick Harris and right tackle Jared Hilbers, Huff will continue to experiment with different starting combinations.
And he’s set a rough deadline for when decisions should be made.
“A week from the game, we’re going to need to have some decisions made there and start really defining people’s roles,” Huff said. “But until then, we’re going to keep mixing it up. Consistency is the key. We want to see who’s going to be the most consistent from now until then. We’ve got some mock kind of game situations that we’ve been doing. We’re going to keep pushing the envelope.
“We certainly want that continuity. But it’s more important to make sure that we’ve got the right five rolling out that first game.”
- Last week, UW senior corner Keith Taylor didn’t hesitate to compare UW’s 2020 secondary to the group that dominated (and won a Pac-12 title) several seasons ago. “We have a lot of depth, and I’ll say this will be like another 2018 year,” Taylor said. “We just have a lot of guys filling roles. Kam Fabiculanan looks very solid. He’s very eager to get better every single day. Julius Irvin looks great. Cam Williams, Asa Turner … just with everybody in this DB room, man, I feel like it’s going to be a special year.”
- Wattenberg said freshman left tackle Roger Rosengarten “looks like a young Trey Adams out there.” The 6-6, 280-pound Rosengarten likely won’t see the field this season behind junior Jaxson Kirkland and redshirt freshman Troy Fautanu. But the early returns have been encouraging all the same. “He just moves really well,” Wattenberg said. “He’s nasty, just like Trey was. He’s big and strong and he takes great sets and he’s doing really well all around.”