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UW Fall Camp Preview 2015: Defensive Backs

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Washington's youngest defensive unit in 2014 has suddenly become its most experienced position group just one year later. How they build on that experience may very well dictate the success of the Husky defense this season.

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The Husky secondary will feature young but talented players who cut their teeth in 2014, and will be counted on as the strength of the defense this season. With just one returning starter in the front seven, Washington's sophomore-heavy corps of cornerbacks and safeties will be relied upon to act as the defense's veterans. No doubt, the hope is that the bumps and growing pains of 2014 will translate into steady and reliable play in 2015 and beyond.

Who's Gone

Name Position Height Weight Tackles INTs TFLs Sacks Passes Defended Forced Fumbles
Travell Dixon CB 6-1 195 4 -- -- -- -- --
Jermaine Kelly CB 6-1 190 5 -- -- -- -- --
Jonathan Kwon S 5-10 185 -- -- -- -- -- --
Marcus Peters CB 6-0 190 30 3 4 -- 7 --
Thomas Vincent S 6-0 200 1 -- -- -- -- --
Total 40 3 4 0 7 0

It is quite telling that nearly all of the statistical production by players no longer on the team belonged to first-round draft pick Marcus Peters, as not one single other player who graduated or transferred contributed an interception, tackle for loss, sack, pass defended or fumble forced in 2014. Had Jermaine Kelly not broken his ankle in the week prior to the Illinois game and had a full season to show his ability, he likely would have been a significant contributor as well, but his decision to move on from the program means that we'll never know how that hypothetical scenario may have played out.

Returning Players

Name Position Year Height Weight Tackles INTs TFLs Sacks Passes Defended Forced Fumbles
Budda Baker S Soph. 5-10 173 80 1 2 1 6 2
Brandon Beaver S Jr. 6-0 192 7 -- -- -- 2 --
Brian Clay S Sr. 6-1 196 12 -- -- -- -- --
Darren Gardenhire CB Soph. 5-11 173 6 -- -- -- 1 --
Naijiel Hale CB Soph. 5-10 171 12 -- -- -- 2 --
Sidney Jones CB Soph. 6-0 171 61 2 2.5 -- 5 1
Kevin King CB Jr. 6-3 183 65 1 0.5 -- 3 1
Brandon Lewis CB RFr. 6-2 189 -- -- -- -- -- --
JoJo McIntosh S RFr. 6-0 204 -- -- -- -- -- --
Hayden Schuh S Jr. 6-0 202 5 -- -- -- -- 1
Trevor Walker S Jr. 5-11 182 14 -- -- -- -- --
Total 262 4 5 1 19 5

The headliner here is undoubtedly blue-chip 2014 recruit and freshman all-American Budda Baker. The phenom started every game for the Huskies at safety and tied all-American Shaq Thompson in tackles with 80, and made a ridiculous interception in the first quarter of Washington's loss to Oklahoma State in the Cactus Bowl. He's also beginning to attract the eyes of a nationwide audience by earning a place on four separate postseason award watch lists for 2015. The secondary's other key player will be sophomore cornerback Sidney Jones, who outplayed virtually all expectations last year by seizing the starting role opposite Marcus Peters and starting 12 of Washington's 14 games. His breakout performance against Arizona included two interceptions, the latter of which should have sealed UW's first road win against a top-10 team since 2002.

Newcomers

Name Position Year Height Weight Star rating (Scout.com) Expected to Redshirt?
Ian Biddle DB RFr. 6-0 176 N/A No
Dustin Bush DB Fr. 5-10 165 N/A Yes
Austin Joyner CB Fr. 5-10 192 4 No
Jordan Miller CB Fr. 6-1 164 3 Yes
Ezekiel Turner S Soph. 6-2 204 3 No
Sean Vergara DB RFr. 6-2 174 N/A No

Players to Watch

Aside from the obvious choices of Baker and Jones, whom I detailed above, you'll want to keep an eye on the following players:

  • Ezekiel Turner is the rare junior college transfer who has four years to play three, rather than the usual three to play two. The No. 38 prospect in Scout.com's JuCo 100 offers a heavy-hitting option in run support in the mold of the graduated Sean Parker that the Huskies sorely missed last year.

  • Austin Joyner is too tantalizing a prospect to merit a redshirt, even with a solid number of experienced players ahead of him who are more likely than he to earn starting roles. Playing in the Pac-12 means that defenses must be able to field five or more effective pass defenders at any given time, and his natural athleticism should ensure that Joyner sees at least a handful of plays each week from one of the cornerback or nickel positions.

  • Darren Gardenhire contributed mostly as a special teams player in his freshman campaign last year, but a monster spring 2015 may have propelled him atop the depth chart opposite Sidney Jones. As is always the case with spring football stars, his production may say more about the opposing offense than anything else, and he has yet to show an ability to play with consistency against Pac-12 opponents. Those caveats aside, however, Gardenhire is an intriguing prospect to whom Husky fans will want to pay attention, especially in the early weeks of the fall.

Predicted Depth Chart

Position First String Second String Third String
CB Darren Gardenhire Kevin King Austin Joyner
S Budda Baker Brian Clay JoJo McIntosh
S Ezekiel Turner Trevor Walker Brandon Beaver
CB Sidney Jones Naijiel Hale Brandon Lewis


Closing Thoughts

Aside from the defensive nightmare that was the Eastern Washington game, UW's secondary did very well for a unit last year that spent the season breaking in untested and undersized freshman while contending with the challenge of facing off against a ridiculously talented slate of opposing quarterbacks without the help of an all-American prospect in Marcus Peters following his midseason dismissal from the team. They were helped immeasurably in that regard by a dominant front seven with players like Danny Shelton, Hau'oli Kikaha and Shaq Thompson; now, with those players gone, the secondary must return the favor to a front seven that is as inexperienced and untested any in recent memory. Washington's safeties and cornerbacks are young but not inexperienced, and will in all likelihood become the defense's leaders. Defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake has his work cut out for him, but if the Dawgs can avoid the injury bug, his players have the potential to be the strongest and most consistent unit on the entire team.