SEATTLE – Though just a redshirt freshman, lanky Travis Feeney sauntered onto the field in fall camp with numerous goals.
Washington had moved Feeney from safety to linebacker, opting for max speed at that position in the new hybrid defense of coordinator Justin Wilcox. The Huskies did the same with Shaq Thompson.
The switch left each with more playbook to learn than other regulars.
Despite the change, Feeney wanted to earn a starting spot. And he did. He also wanted to make 100 tackles, but he didn’t. When that number was clearly out of reach, he tried for 80. Didn’t quite make that, either.
Feeney did force a fumble and pick off two passes, two things that were on his list. He finished with 67 tackles, a respectable accomplishment for a first-year starter, and was third on the team with four sacks.
“I wanted to try to get All-Pac-12 something, though didn’t get that,” Feeney said. “I’ll get it soon enough.”
The move from safety forced Feeney to shift from observer to reactor. At safety, Feeney was at least five yards further back than his spot at linebacker. That allowed him a smidge more time to watch and decide.
As linebacker, he had to become accustomed to reaching the ballcarrier quicker. Feeney also needed to understand what pulling linemen were trying to do to him and being disciplined when teams ran counters.
“Sometimes in the beginning, I was a little hesitant,” Feeney said. “If I see something, I have to go.”
Thompson underwent his own speed adjustment. After playing lots of man-to-man coverage in high school, Thompson found himself near or on the line in many situations. He said getting used to that speed up close was a process.
Thompson, rated one of the top safeties in the country coming out of high school, also had to adjust his technique. Already a stout 225 pounds, Thompson was accustomed to sprinting toward the line and creating space with his shoulders. Learning proper hand technique was a challenge.
Together, Feeney paired with Thompson to form one of the best young linebacker duos in the league. The old man of the group, middle linebacker and captain John Timu, is just a sophomore and led the team in tackles.
Feeney was third in tackles and Thompson was tied for fourth. Wilcox was asked if Thompson would stay at linebacker or move back to safety next season.
“Yes,” Wilcox answered with a smile.
Wilcox’s non-committal answer is a result of Washington still assessing Thompson’s future position as it sorts out the next recruiting class. Safety Sean Parker will be back next season, but the Huskies will have to replace Justin Glenn at the other safety spot.
Regardless of where Thompson ends up, the Huskies know they have two young and growing talents.
“To do what they did was pretty impressive,” Wilcox said. “I think the great thing is they’re just scratching the surface.”Todd Dybas todd.dybas@ thenewstribune.com @Todd_Dybas blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports