Key Losses: Naijiel Hale, Marcus Peters
Key Additions: Ezekiel Turner, Austin Joyner, Jordan Miller
Most of you are probably familiar with the story of the defense last year: strong front seven, and talented but extremely young secondary, especially after Marcus Peters' departure from the team. The 2015 season will be a much different story, with a retooled front seven and young secondary looking to turn the corner. Players like Budda Baker and Sidney Jones seem poised and ready to step into the spotlight as key players looking to have big seasons. You also have Zeke Turner, brought in from the JC ranks specifically to compliment Baker's skills. What about former Army All American Brandon Beaver; is he ready to have his breakout season in his 3rd year?
While the 2014 secondary struggled at times, they also had their moments. During the annual destruction of the Cal Bears, they put in an admirable performance against a high flying aerial attack. The Huskies not only held them 50 yards under their per game average (though that's still 300 yards), they kept them out of the end zone, only allowing a rushing TD. This is particularly impressive as Cal QB Jared Goff went on to throw 35 touchdowns last year and was only blanked in one game: against Washington.
Then there is the Apple Cup. You'll never say a secondary had a good game giving up 2 touchdowns and 355 yards, but against Washington State's air raid offense, that is not so bad. After all, in terms of yards per game they ranked #1 in the country with 477, and WSU QB Luke Falk threw 8 touchdowns in his previous two games. Despite these, and some other good games, it is hard to ignore the 475 yards and 7 TDs given up versus Eastern Washington. They got shredded against the Eagles, and generally were inconsistent all season. On the other hand the experience the freshmen got last year will prove invaluable this year.
It's been examined thoroughly in this space and others, but Budda Baker is poised for a huge season, and his contributions will go a long way in shoring up the secondary. Having a player that can cover as much ground as Baker can opens up so many options for Defensive Coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski's schemes. Similarly, if Sidney Jones can become the next great Husky lockdown cornerback, he can be left on an island freeing up the rest of the defense to make plays. Much of the success of the secondary will rest with Baker and Jones becoming the "stars" that the fans want, and the team needs, them to become.
Starting opposite Baker will be a combination of newcomer Zeke Turner and RFr JoJo McIntosh. Turner was well known in the junior college ranks for being a punishing hitter as an in the box safety, and he'll perfectly compliment Baker's FS role. There's also more experienced players like heady senior Brian Clay, and junior Brandon Beaver. Darren Gardenhire is just a sophomore, but has been showing up in practice with his ball skills. True freshman Austin Joyner may figure into the mix, as he might too athletic to keep off the field. We also can't forget junior Kevin King. How will his 6'3" stature fit in the cornerback rotation? He was recently moved from safety to get more long athletes covering receivers on the outside.
The Verdict: Better
Honestly, a pretty easy pick.There's every reason to think the secondary will improve greatly in 2015. They spent most of the season without their best player, Marcus Peters, so the young players already got a taste for what 2015 would be like. The only thing that may hold them back, is the new front seven taking time to gel and get a consistent pass rush. If they're stuck on an island while the defensive line struggles to generate pressure, they'll struggle. They're probably another year away from being an elite secondary, but after an uneven season, they showed plenty of promise to indicate they'll be much better in 2015.