University of Washington

Highlights from UW coach Chris Petersen’s season-opening press conference

Elijah Molden discusses UW’s secondary

Washington junior defensive back Elijah Molden talks about the Huskies' secondary after fall practice.
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Washington junior defensive back Elijah Molden talks about the Huskies' secondary after fall practice.

As a whole, the depth chart Washington released on Monday was packed with upperclassmen. But when you made your way down to the secondary, there were several freshmen spread throughout the two-deep.

The first one came as no surprise. Safety Cameron Williams has been impressing UW’s coaches since he arrived on campus in the spring. After spending much of spring practice and fall camp working with the No. 1 defense, his status was made official on Monday. Williams will start at safety Saturday against Eastern Washington alongside senior Myles Bryant. He’ll become the first true freshman starter in the Husky secondary since Taylor Rapp in 2016.

“We’ve been extremely excited about Cam Williams since spring ball,” Petersen said during a press conference Monday. “Just in terms of his attention to detail and picking it up. So that hasn’t changed. And then those other new guys have kind of followed right in those footsteps.”

Also listed as starter: redshirt freshman cornerback Kyler Gordon. Fellow redshirt freshman Dominique Hampton and true freshman Trent McDuffie were listed as the backup cornerbacks. True freshman Asa Turner will play behind Elijah Molden at nickelback. Junior Brandon McKinney and sophomore Alex Cook will back up Williams and Bryant at safety.

“We’ve played a lot of young guys certainly back there over the years,” Petersen said. “So that philosophy hasn’t changed. But I think the important thing the (freshmen) have done is come in and really done a nice job grasping the schemes. They’re all very athletic. Played a lot of football. We knew that coming in, and then it’s like how do they adjust to this level of detail, intensity, all those type of things.”

Additional defensive backs — players like junior Isaiah Gilchrist and redshirt freshman Julius Irvin — should also see the field.

“We’re going to play different guys in the secondary, too,” Petersen said. “I think that’s one thing coach (Jimmy) Lake and coach (Will) Harris have done. They’re going to rotate guys. We got our starters but it’s always open competition. We got some guys that’ll play and deserve to play.”

Receiver rotation

After starting last season, junior Ty Jones is listed as a backup receiver on the depth chart. Jones spent most of spring practice with a cast on his left hand. During the fall, he said he was still working to rebuild the strength.

“That was a significant injury,” Petersen said. “We didn’t get him back going until right before — he could run and all that stuff — really fall camp started. So he’s been working through that.”

Chico McClatcher, who stepped away from football for personal reasons after eight games last season, was listed as a starter at receiver along with Andre Baccellia and Aaron Fuller.

During fall camp, McClatcher said he was dealing with family issues while also not feeling 100 percent physically and struggling to move past mistakes he made on the field. Petersen encouraged him to take a break from the team instead of quitting football for good.

Now, after a strong spring and fall, McClatcher is ready to rejoin the Huskies on the field.

“To me, it’s just all about Chico getting back to the old Chico,” Petersen said. “I think that’s like such an unbelievable story for everybody to pay attention to. That’s how much these kids care. This is still a game. The pressure that’s on these guys, that’s put on by themselves by the situation of big-time college football. Sometimes it can get out of whack.”

Redshirt decisions

It seems clear at least some of the true freshman won’t be redshirting this season, most notably the four true freshmen listed on the season-opening two deep. Along with the three defensive backs, Tim Horn is listed as the backup kicker. Petersen said Horn will kickoff and Peyton Henry will handle field goals.

Petersen said on Monday that a few other freshmen could join them. Others will play in no more than four games in order to preserve their redshirts. Asked specifically about wide receiver Puka Nuca, who didn’t appear on the depth chart, Petersen said the coaches were “planning on getting (him) in the mix.”

“Now what that means, I don’t know,” Petersen said. “With this four-game rule, we’re planning on playing a handful of these guys. But we’ll see how it goes down the road. We might end up playing more with injuries and all those things. And maybe it’s not a bunch the first game but it’s more the fourth game. It’s kind of a work in progress with all the things Puka’s done good.”

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Lauren Kirschman is the UW Huskies beat writer for The News Tribune. She previously covered the Pittsburgh Steelers for A Pennsylvania native and a University of Pittsburgh graduate, she also covered college athletics for the Beaver County Times from 2012-2016.
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