Like Nate Fellner, Taz Stevenson and Evan Zeger before him, Travis Feeney has become the latest Washington Huskies safety to slide from the secondary to an outside linebacker position.
With the linebacker corps hit hard by injuries to Fellner, who is out four weeks with a broken foot, and minor dings that have slowed Stevenson, Princeton Fuimaono and Jamaal Kearse, it seems like a move made out of necessity.
But in the end, Feeney could be the best of the converts.
The official change took place Monday, when Feeney was working with the linebackers, while Stevenson, Kearse and Fuimaono watched from the sideline.
“(UW coaches) came and talked to me and I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’” Feeney said. “They needed me to come down, and if the team needed me to come down then I’ll play – whatever is best for the team.”
Coach Steve Sarkisian and defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox didn’t give Feeney a soft landing to get acclimated. They put him with the first-team defense and let him play there the past few days.
To his credit, Feeney never looked lost or overwhelmed. Instead, he was aggressive and fearless. He made plays.
“What I do know is that he’s around the ball and he gets to the ball,” Sarkisian said. “Even when it looks like we’re going to have some big plays offensively, No. 41 (Feeney) shows up and knocks them out of bounds or makes the tackle.”
Unlike Zeger, Fellner and Stevenson, Feeney had played the position before so there was some familiarity.
“I’ve played linebacker before in high school (Pinole Valley in Richmond, Calif.), so it was a flashback,” he said. “It’s a little different, a little faster, but I’m going to get it. I’ll catch on to it.”
At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, Feeney doesn’t look like a classic linebacker; more like a big wide receiver.
But don’t let his almost sinewy appearance fool you. He hits, and hits hard. During Tuesday’s scrimmage, he knocked guard Colin Tanigawa to the ground and delivered a hard hit to tight end Evan Hudson.
“He fits there really nicely,” Sarkisian said. “He’s long. He’s rangy. He’s kind of bigger than you think until you stand right next to him. His ability to tackle for us is critical in space.”
But Feeney knows he needs to add weight and strength, but he can get by without it for now.
“I’ve been putting on a little more weight,” he said. “I just need to make sure to use my hands more and use my long arms ... just being more physical.”
Sarkisian said the move isn’t completely a reaction to the injuries at linebacker.
“The depth at safety helps as well with all of the guys back there,” he said. “I think to Justin’s credit and to the defense staff, we are trying to get the best 11 players on the field that give us a chance to be successful. I think Travis is one of those guys. We will try and find a home for him and see if it works.”email@example.com 253-597-8483 blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @RyanDivish