Greg Walker has won more of the battles than he’s lost during the University of Washington preseason camp, which has landed him atop the depth chart at free safety.
Feeling comfortable? Not really, and a moment during practice Monday proved why.
The redshirt freshman from Bellflower, Calif., missed an assignment during an 11-on-11 drill. He looked over just in time to see the wagging finger of safeties coach Jeff Mills, signaling he come over to the sideline to be taken out.
It gave Walker time to reason his tenuous hold on a starting position.
“As of right now, the only guy who seems to be penciled in is Nate Williams” at strong safety, Walker said. “I don’t know. It’s funny, because when I’m with the 1’s (No. 1 defense), if I mess up, I’m out. If I was a true starter, I wouldn’t come out.”
The best odds are that Walker, who has taken the most repetitions during spring camp and this fall camp, will be the starter at free safety when the Huskies open Sept. 5 against Louisiana State.
He has a great skill set for the position: intelligence, communication, work ethic and ball-hawking.
“A guy like Greg Walker, he’s had all the reps from the spring, all the reps from fall camp, and he’s going to be more prepared than a lot of guys at a lot of places, because he’s seen things,” Mills said. “He’s been very consistent.”
But reacting well on the scout team a year ago and showing it during the offseason is much different than what he will see in game situations when the Tigers come to Husky Stadium.
“That’s probably the only thing that will hit him hard – first game, I’m sure everyone makes mistakes,” said sophomore Johri Fogerson, who was the co-starter at free safety after spring ball before being moved to running back.
“But right now, his feet are under him, and he’s a great player. He does communicate, and he is a leader on the field.”
The back line of the secondary had featured a whirlwind of activity, much of it a hindrance. Williams has been a stalwart at strong safety, but his backup, Victor Aiyewa, just returned to practice this week after being out a week with a slight concussion.
Jason Wells, a free safety, still hasn’t returned after tweaking his right Achilles’ tendon a week ago. David Batts, a junior college transfer from California’s El Camino College, has been on the field, but everywhere. Coaches are trying to pinpoint his best position.
One of the saving graces behind Walker has been Tripper Johnson, the Bellevue product who started seven games last season. He is capable of occupying either safety position.
“I see it like a group-by-committee. Nate, Greg, Victor, Tripper … they’re all going to get reps, and it’s going to be who has the hot hand,” Mills said.
Walker “is going to have to understand, if we get into a game, and he’s not playing well, somebody else is going to play. It’s like baseball. You bring in a reliever.”
None of this is news to Walker. He knows he can be replaced. He got a reminder of that Monday, even if it was just briefly.
“Probably at the end of the week, all the starters we’ll kind of know by then,” Walker said. “I’m not nervous. I’m excited. We have a lot to prove. I felt like I worked hard enough to be in the position to compete.”
Key injuries continued to mount Monday as tight end Kavario Middleton (hamstring), cornerback Quinton Richardson (hip pointer) and Batts (shoulder) all left practice early. Coach Steve Sarkisian noted they would be out at least a couple of days. … Three true freshmen – defensive end Talia Crichton, linebacker Tim Tucker and quarterback Keith Price – were declared ineligible by the NCAA and were out of practice Monday. “It’s not a matter of they did not pass classes. It’s a matter … the NCAA gets backed up” on eligibility matters, Sarkisian said. … Fullback Paul Homer (hamstring), center Ryan Tolar (toe) and Aiyewa (head) returned to full contact Monday while offensive guard Morgan Rosborough wore the protective, no-contact red jersey. … An ESPN crew followed the team around during practice and had Sarkisian miked up for a “GameDay” segment that will air on the network’s college football show. “I don’t envision being miked up during a game week … or game day when we’re really talking X’s and O’s, but in a training camp practice, it’s fine,” Sarkisian said. … When told that Buster Sports, an online publication, rated him as the 10th-best coach in the Pacific-10 Conference, Sarkisian did not bat an eye. “Has the (rater) coached before?” he asked before ending the media session. The answer? No.
Todd Milles: 253-597-8442