The decision to move John Ross III from receiver to cornerback might be puzzling to some, but Washington Huskies defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake is not among the skeptics.
He’s more or less jumping up and down at the thought of Ross, the Huskies’ leading receiver and touchdown-scorer, playing defense full time.
“I’ve been working on this free-agent acquisition since January,” Lake joked. “My agent talked to his agent; we’ve got everything squared away.”
Ross, a sophomore, played almost exclusively at cornerback during the Huskies’ 44-30 loss to No. 18 UCLA last week at Husky Stadium. He spent some time covering slot receivers in a nickel package, and also lined up at outside corner one-on-one with the receiver with no safety help.
He’s listed atop UW’s depth chart at one cornerback spot for this week’s game at No. 17 Arizona (12:30 p.m., Ch. 13), ahead of true freshman Naijiel Hale, who started against UCLA.
Ross starred at receiver, cornerback and kick returner at Long Beach (California) Jordan High School.
“I just take it like this — on offense, you don’t want to get hit at all, so just think about it the other way,” Ross said. “Do to someone what you wouldn’t want to happen to yourself. I just think about it like, go hit them first instead of letting them run by me. I don’t think it’s that much of a difference. You just really have to be aggressive.”
As a receiver, Ross has caught 17 passes for a team-best 371 yards and four touchdowns, in addition to a rushing touchdown and a 100-yard kick-return score. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.29 seconds (hand-timed) in May.
But UW coach Chris Petersen believes Ross is more valuable to the Huskies now as a cornerback, particularly in light of last week’s dismissal of top corner Marcus Peters.
Lake is happy to have him.
“To me, the sky’s the limit with this guy,” Lake said. “He looks like an exceptional corner. He looks like a lot of the guys I coached in the National Football League. He’s got that perfect size, that 5-10 to 6-1 range — quick, fast, ball skills, tough. And I’m excited to coach him.”
SHAQ BACK ON ‘DARK SIDE’
Huskies defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said he texted a simple message to Shaq Thompson earlier this week: “Welcome back to the dark side.”
That would be linebacker, Thompson’s natural position, where he played in UW’s first seven games before moving to running back for the last three. Petersen said on Monday that Thompson will start at linebacker on Saturday against Arizona, and it sounds as if he’ll spend more time chasing ball carriers than he will carrying the ball.
“It’s good to have him back,” Kwiatkowski said.
Thompson played some running back and some linebacker against UCLA on Saturday. The junior is fourth on the team in tackles with 58 and has scored four defensive touchdowns, which leads the nation.
Kwiatkowski also said senior outside linebacker and national sacks leader Hau’oli Kikaha is “out there running around” at practice after leaving Saturday’s game with a shoulder stinger.
“Just being careful with him,” Kwiatkowski said.
Lake said redshirt freshman cornerback Jermaine Kelly, who is out for the season with an ankle injury, participated some in practice on Tuesday.