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Washington Huskies 2017 Spring Football Preview: Defensive Backs

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The Dawgs look to reload their secondary after bidding adieu to three likely NFL Draft selections.

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NCAA Football: Washington at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

2016 Year in Review

The Huskies returned a ton of experience and production from one of the nation’s best defenses entering into the 2016 season, and perhaps no unit faced higher expectations than Jimmy Lake’s secondary. Safety Budda Baker and cornerback Sidney Jones both earned first-team all-conference accolades as true sophomores in 2015, and Baker was named a preseason All-American by Sports Illustrated, ESPN and CBS.

Here’s what Jeff Gorman had to say about the secondary as we headed into last season’s fall camp:

I don't want to jinx anything, but could [Baker and Jones become All-Americans]? Budda Baker added weight and kept his speed this offseason, showing off some serious wheels at the "Husky Combine" a couple weeks ago. The added bulk will help him hold up for an entire season, and if he keeps up the tremendous play, he will garner national attention. He will be aided by the defense's overall strength, and if the team wins a lot of games he'll be in consideration. You could say the same about Jones, and while he may not possess Budda's "star power," UW is starting to get a little attention for producing quality CBs, which will aid Jones in his quest for All-American honors. Current NFL CBs Desmond Trufant and reigning Rookie DPOY Marcus Peters' careers will draw attention to Sidney Jones.

Suffice it to say that Baker, Jones, Kevin King and JoJo McIntosh met those expectations, and then some: Thanks in large part to Jones locking down virtually an entire half of the field on his own—according to the folks at Pro Football Focus, Jones was only targeted 48 times in 2016, and didn’t yield a single touchdown—Baker, King and McIntosh were free to play aggressively virtually all year. As a result, Washington yielded only 5.7 yards per attempt to opposing quarterbacks, just 0.1 yards behind the nation’s best mark achieved by Michigan, Clemson and Ohio State. Meanwhile, true freshman Taylor Rapp offered a glimpse at the future of the UW secondary by earning recognition as the Pac-12’s defensive freshman of the year, which he capped with a two-interception performance (including a pick-six) against Colorado in the Pac-12 championship game.

Players Lost, Players Returning

(All information courtesy of GoHuskies.com)

Name Position Height Weight Year
Name Position Height Weight Year
Ian Biddle DB 6-0 184 Jr.
Zechariah Brown DB 5-10 184 Fr.
Myles Bryant DB 5-8 178 Soph.
Jomon Dotson DB 5-10 183 Jr.
Isaiah Gilchrist DB 5-10 201 RFr.
Austin Joyner DB 5-10 187 RSoph.
Brandon Lewis DB 5-11 186 Jr.
Kentrell Love DB 6-1 182 RFr.
JoJo McIntosh DB 6-1 215 Jr.
Brandon McKinney S 6-0 191 Fr.
Jordan Miller DB 6-1 183 Jr.
Elijah Molden CB 5-10 181 Fr.
Byron Murphy DB 5-11 177 RFr.
Taylor Rapp DB 6-0 207 Soph.
Mason Stone DB 6-0 179 Jr.
Keith Taylor CB 6-3 189 Fr.
Ezekiel Turner DB 6-2 207 Sr.
Sean Vergara DB 6-2 188 Jr.
Trevor Walker DB 5-11 188 Sr.

Jimmy Lake’s overarching goal in 2017 will be the elevation of young players to starring roles, and the replacement of lost production. Consider that among its defensive backs, Washington needs to replace players who accounted for nine of 16 interceptions (56 percent), 193 of 365 tackles (53 percent), 17 of 23.5 tackles for loss (72 percent), and 27 of 33 pass defenses (82 percent). JoJo McIntosh should lead the charge in that respect, as the junior safety accounted for 12 of the unit’s 23 returning starts in 2016, and offers the most in-game experience of any returning players in the secondary.

Story Lines to Watch

Which Redshirt Freshman Becomes a Household Name?
While Husky fans will miss the production of players such as Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King, defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake has done a marvelous job of filling the cupboards in recent recruiting classes. In particular, Washington’s depth last season allowed Lake to redshirt a trio of four-star recruits in the forms of Isaiah Gilchrist, Kentrell Love and Byron Murphy. In particular, 247 Sports recognized Murphy as the nation’s No. 11 cornerback and No. 98 overall recruit in the 2016 class, and he earned the team’s defensive scout squad MVP award during the 2016 season. Don’t be surprised at all to see him taking the lion’s share of reps with the No. 1 defense opposite Jordan Miller by the time Washington’s 2017 Spring Preview event rolls around.

Taylor Rapp’s Continued Development
The decision Rapp made to enroll in time for last year’s spring practices paid dividends in the fall, as the true freshman played in all 14 games and earned the starting nod in 10 contests as a nickelback. His season culminated in player of the game honors at the Pac-12 championship against Colorado on the strength of his two-interception performance, and he was named the conference’s freshman defensive player of the year following the season’s culmination. With Baker off to the NFL, Rapp seems to be the prime candidate to fill in Budda’s shoes as the starting free safety.

Austin Joyner’s Place in the Depth Chart
Few local prospects have excited Husky fans as much as Austin Joyner at the time of his enrollment, who entered his college career in 2015 as USA Today’s reigning Washington state player of the year and a MaxPreps high school All-American. Unfortunately, his true freshman season was cut short by an ACL injury that sidelined him for the rest of the year, and while he saw plenty of game action in 2016 as a redshirt freshman, Joyner is still chasing his opportunity to become one of the Huskies’ breakout players. If he can stay healthy, this spring might offer our first glimpse at the stardom that could potentially head his way this fall.