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Originally published Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 8:54 PM

Free safety battle heats up for the Huskies

Defensive coordinator Nick Holt says both Nate Fellner and Justin Glenn deserve to play for UW

Seattle Times staff reporter

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When observers assessed the positions where Washington's football team might have stiff competition when camp began, free safety was pretty low on the list.

But as camp gets set to break this weekend, that position is suddenly yielding one of the fiercest battles on the roster.

"It's every day," said defensive coordinator Nick Holt of the fight between Nate Fellner and Justin Glenn for the starting job. "Every day. One day one guy's really good, and the next day the other guy's really good. Hopefully it will clear up, but both of them deserve to play. Both of them have had good, competitive fall camps."

When camp began, conventional wisdom was that the job belonged to Fellner, a junior who started all 13 games last season and ranked fourth in the Pac-10 in interceptions last season with five.

But Glenn had been the starter for four of the first five games in 2009 before suffering a broken fibula and ligament damage in his ankle in a game at Notre Dame.

"Justin has really improved," Holt said. "I think his body feels a lot better from his injury. He's our starting nickel right now, and he's taking that job real seriously and he's pushing Nate at the free-safety spot."

Glenn returned to play in eight games last season, but mostly on special teams.

"The biggest thing was the mental issue of making a break and trusting my foot — is it going to roll? Am I going to be able to come out of it?" he said.

He began to get past that in the spring, which he ended as the nickel back in passing situations.

Now, he says, the injury is a thing of the past.

"It feels good to just have my mind free again and play fast," Glenn said.

He's up to 212 pounds from about 200 in 2009, which he says has given him an added "physical presence to my game."

The last week or so, Glenn has often run with the starting unit, trading off with Fellner alongside Sean Parker, who appears to have the strong safety spot wrapped up.

Fellner, meanwhile, has battled a minor hamstring injury through camp but says "it's no big deal. I'm good. There's no excuses."

Fellner was a key reason the UW secondary finished with a flourish, picking off passes in three of the last four games, including highlight-reel grabs against UCLA and against Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.

"I felt real good (at the end of the season)," Fellner said. "I wanted to build off of it, and hopefully I can just build off of it this year."

But UW coaches often stress there are no guarantees, and Fellner said he's taking the suddenly intense fight for his job in stride.

"Nothing has ever been given to me, and I feel like these coaches don't really give anything to anyone," he said. "You've got to earn it. Right now it's a battle there, and may the best man win."

Notes

• Starting cornerback Quinton Richardson suffered what was described as a high ankle sprain two weeks ago and has not yet returned to practice. Sophomore Greg Ducre and junior Anthony Gobern have been battling to replace Richardson if he can't make it back.

• UW held two practices Thursday but neither was open to the media. The Huskies are scheduled for another practice Friday that is also closed to the media.

• Former Huskies tight end Kavario Middleton has been charged with driving under the influence in relation to an incident on June 6, according to Seattle Municipal Court. He is scheduled for an arraignment Sept. 3. Middleton now plays for Montana, and the Grizzlies open the season that day at Tennessee.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com

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