Washington’s secondary has been a strength for the Huskies since Chris Petersen has been head coach, with an assist given to secondary coach and co-coordinator Jimmy Lake. It started with three true freshmen starting in Sidney Jones, Darren Gardenhire, and Budda Baker, and now those three are gone.
Gabey has already gone over the corners, so now we will talk about the last line of defense, the safeties. Fortunately for UW fans, only one early-round NFL draft pick left the safety position instead of two.
Budda Baker: 70 tackles (9.5 TFL), 3.0 sacks, 2 interceptions, 5 pass defenses
Brandon Beaver: 20 tackles (1.0 TFL), 1.0 sack, 1 INT
While the Huskies don’t lose a whole bunch of quantity at the safety position, losing a second-round pick at safety is always going to be a loss, especially when that safety is your team leader in solo, total, and for-loss tackles. Baker was truly the do-it-all player for one of the best defenses in the country. He isn’t replaceable one-for-one. Fortunately for Washington, Lake and Pete Kwiatkowski are more than capable of scheming and building up a stable to replace this thoroughbred.
Beaver has been solid rotational depth through his career at Washington, a guy who can lay a little wood but wasn’t a key piece when the rest of the team was healthy.
JoJo McIntosh: 67 tackles, (2.5 for loss) 2 pass defenses
Taylor Rapp: 51 tackles, 4 (!!!) interceptions, 2 pass defenses
Ezekiel Turner: 23 tackles (2.5 for loss) .5 sacks, 1 interception
The headliners of the returning safeties are JoJo McIntosh and Taylor Rapp.
McIntosh was the starting strong safety for most of the season, missing only a single game. McIntosh was a 2016 Honorable Mention Academic All-Pac-12 and his smarts translated to the football field. McIntosh is great at being aggressive without over-pursuing, and his tackle numbers as a redshirt freshman definitely showed that off. He and Turner, who provided solid if unspectacular play in his time filling in for McIntosh and Baker when either was missing time, will be counted on to provide leadership for this very young safety group. McIntosh was already a hard hitter, and after adding ten pounds this offseason, is poised to deliver even more punishment to opposing receivers.
Rapp is the potential star here, however. The ten-pounds-heavier Rapp knows how to be in the right spot at the right time, beyond even just a coachable level. He earned more playing time as the season progressed, eventually tallying his four interceptions on his way to winning Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year. His emergence allowed Baker to play around the line of scrimmage more, opening up versatility for the defense. I expect to see Rapp moved around the formation as well, as his new size will allow him to play closer to the line of scrimmage. As of this writing, Rapp still hasn’t practiced in full pads, but there doesn't seem to be any major concern.
Redshirt freshman Kentrell Love
Redshirt freshman Isaiah Gilchrist
Freshman Brandon McKinney
Love is a player who will see time all over the field. He is versatile enough that he was mentioned in our cornerbacks piece. If/when injuries start to happen he will likely see time all through the secondary. Gilchrist was a two-way player who has been stuck on the defensive side of the ball by the Washington staff after also being recruited as a running back. He also has the versatility to play around the defensive backfield and may even see more time at corner.
Making the most noise is probably the true frosh Brandon McKinney. Early on in camp he was able to nab two interceptions in a single practice. He was a four-star recruit and is going to do his best to push for playing time right away, but with the overall depth at the safety position it’s going to be difficult to justify burning a year of his eligibility for spot snaps.
Replacing Budda Baker is a tough task, but UW is in a great spot with its coaching and talent to grow a secondary that can collectively replicate most of the production.
All stats courtesy of sports-reference.com