After Kevin King spent two seasons as a tall, skinny safety, Washington Huskies coaches decided it was best to move him to cornerback, the position he played from Pop Warner through high school.
And through UW’s first three games of the 2015 season, King has already produced, snagging a total of three interceptions – one each against Boise State, Sacramento State and Utah State.
But none of them have come with King lined up at corner.
Instead, King, a junior from Oakland, grabbed all three interceptions from the nickel position, a spot where Huskies coaches believe he can be just as valuable as he is at corner, where he started UW’s past two games. His play has contributed to a UW pass defense that is tied for 16th nationally in yards-per-pass-attempt allowed (5.3) and 11th in opponent passer rating (91.85).
Huskies defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said King’s length and athleticism — at 6-foot-3 and 183 pounds with long arms, he’s the ideal size to play corner — make him even more of a turnover threat at nickel, where he’s often matched up against smaller, shorter slot receivers.
In UW’s base defense with three linemen, four linebackers and four defensive backs, a linebacker would be responsible for covering the offense’s fifth receiver on a pass play. But when the Huskies take a linebacker off the field and replace him with King — with Sidney Jones and Darren Gardenhire at cornerback — the matchup can turn in their favor.
“I feel like it’s a great advantage, because we’re taking a linebacker out and putting the best athletes on the field to match up with their receivers,” Gardenhire said. “So they can’t really pick on anybody once he’s out there, because you can’t put a slot (against) a linebacker when there’s a nickel out there.”
Against a team such as California (3-0) — which visits Husky Stadium for a game at 2 p.m. Saturday — and its potent passing attack led by star quarterback Jared Goff, those matchups will be particularly important.
“He’s got big-time length, but then he moves around like a corner,” Lake said. “So it’s been hard for those guys to try to attack those seams with his length and his speed and his intelligence, so it’s been awesome to watch.”
King said that at nickel, “there are a whole bunch more calls that you have to make. It’s like playing linebacker. It’s a different position. It’s a lot (more) new wrinkles than it is for corner.”
But that’s not a bad thing.
“I think it’s paid off huge,” he said. “All three of my interceptions have come out of nickel, so I like it.”
Said Lake: “He’s such a smart, smart player that we’re able to put more on his plate. So with the ability to put him at corner, know all his techniques, (and) at the same time go to nickel, be able to blitz, be able to cover, and still have some of those safety tools — (that) has been awesome for us to have somebody like that.”
A Bay Area native, King said he looks forward to playing against Cal, which lists on its roster a handful of friends and acquaintances — including Goff, who starred at Marin Catholic, about 40 minutes northwest of King’s alma mater of Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland.
The two got to know each other through the northern California recruiting circuit — camps and the like — and King said that on occasion, Goff, who committed to Cal in March 2012, about five months before King chose UW, “tried to get in my ear about going to Cal.”
But he ultimately chose the Huskies, and hopes to add Goff on Saturday to his list of interception victims.
It won’t be easy.
“We’ve just got to have tight coverage,” King said. “He knows how to get the ball out. He knows how to get it out quick, and he knows how to put it on the money, so we’re going to have our hands full. But that’s what we want — coming into the Pac-12, playing at a Pac-12 school, that’s what you want, (is) competition like that. So I’m excited.”
SATURDAY: California at Washington, 2 p.m., Pac-12 Network, 1000-AM, 97.7-FM