- S Brian Clay (6-1, 202, Sr.)
- S Brandon Beaver (6-0, 191, Jr.)
- CB Kevin King (6-3, 182, Jr.)
- S Trevor Walker (5-11, 182, Jr.)
- S Hayden Schuh (6-0, 202, Jr.)*
- S Budda Baker (5-10, 176, So.)
- CB Sidney Jones (6-0, 177, So.)
- CB Darren Gardenhire (5-11, 181, So.)
- CB Naijiel Hale (5-10, 182, So.)
- S Ezekiel Turner (6-2, 204 So.)
- S Jojo McIntosh (6-0, 204, RFr.)
- CB Brandon Lewis (5-10, 192, RFr.)
- CB Sean Vergara (6-2, 174, RFr.)*
- DB Ian Biddle (6-0, 176, RFr.)*
Where does the secondary group find itself after spring: If the tight end group was the most complete offensive room from top to bottom, the defensive group that earns that same acclaim would be the secondary. With Kevin King, Trevor Walker, Budda Baker, Sidney Jones, Darren Gardenhire and Naijiel Hale all having to play as true freshmen, that collective experience of getting thrown right into the fray has eventually served them well.
But it hasn’t all been Rose Bowls. King and Walker were hurt all of spring, so the Huskies were missing two potential starters. And another one - Brandon Beaver - was limited in terms of no contact, and add to the mix the idea that King is being groomed at a different position (cornerback) than what he played the last two years. When you have three players out that are expected to compete for starting jobs in the fall, that’s never an ideal situation.
It did, however, allow Defensive Backs Coach Jimmy Lake to get extended looks on a few different players, like Jojo McIntosh and Zeke Turner at safety, as well as Darren Gardenhire, Naijiel Hale, and Brandon Lewis (limited with no contact) at cornerback. And there were definitely some developments worth noting with those players, as outlined below.
What we did find out about each defensive back during the 15 spring practices held at Husky Stadium? Here’s some quick Cliff’s Notes on each player:
NotesThe lone senior in the secondary did what you would expect a lone senior in a position group to do; he led by example. With Beaver and Walker either limited or out completely, he stayed healthy, got his work in, and kept things in line. I still expect Clay to be a bigger contributor on special teams once everyone is back and healthy, but as of right now he’s a vital cog.
NotesBeaver, despite wearing a yellow jersey this spring signifying no contact, still came up with a number of interceptions and showed that he’s capable of being in the right place at the right time. Now it’s got to show up in actual games. He’s played in 18 games the last two seasons, but will he get a start this fall? Since he only has two years of eligibility remaining, the time is now for Brandon to show he can be a regular.
NotesKing was injured for spring, but all indications are that Lake wants to try and turn the true junior into the next Richard Sherman. It’s possible, but could that entail a redshirt season for King while he gets his feet wet playing cornerback? In an ideal scenario where depth wouldn’t be a concern Lake could give King a soft landing and a generous learning curve. Don’t think that’s going to happen, though. A lot depends on how quickly he comes back from his injury.
NotesWalker has played in 14 games his first two year at Montlake, so he has experience he can draw from. The only thing standing in the way of a starting spot opposite Budda Baker is his ability to stay healthy. He suffered a season-ending injury in the loss to ASU and who knows how healthy he’ll be come the fall. Like King, Walker has a redshirt year available. Will those two be given some extra time to heal up? We’ll see.
NotesIf the injured players do redshirt, there’s a chance that a guy like Schuh - a career walk-on that has done his fair share of positive damage as a special-teamer - could find himself in the mix for position playing time. In his favor? He went through all of spring without a nick or ding, and is most likely ahead of his fellow competitors when it comes to understanding the playbook. Not in his favor? He’s not the athlete they are.
NotesIt’s no surprise that Budda Baker has become an indispensable part of the Washington secondary; perhaps the surprising part is that it happened the very first game of his true freshman season. The Bellevue star has now become the undisputed leader of the back four, and now it’s hard envisioning that group without him. Petersen, Lake, and other UW coaches singled Budda out in spring for his work ethic, something that set him apart when he was at Bellevue.
NotesJones worked his way into a starting spot very early into his true freshman season, and now is a stalwart. This spring showed just how well Jones had learned his lessons in 2014, how he had been thrown into the fire and came away battle-hardened as a result. He has the one cornerback spot on lockdown after 15 April practices and I don’t see him giving it away any time soon.
NotesArguably the biggest surprise in all of spring camp, Gardenhire announced his presence early and often. With Naijiel Hale gone for the first week, the true sophomore stepped right in as if the spot opposite Jones was his all along. By Lake’s count, Gardenhire had created more turnovers than anyone else on defense, his shut-down play at cornerback showing itself time and time again. Hale will make it tough this fall, but it’s hard to see Gardenhire giving away the starting nod if he continues to play the way he did during spring ball.
NotesTo Hale’s credit, he could have gone about his work upon his arrival, understood he was behind and left it at that. But the true sophomore came back to work in great shape and immediately put Darren Gardenhire to the test. Based on their work this spring, I expect that cornerback battle opposite Sidney Jones to be the position battle to watch come fall. Both Hale and Gardenhire are hungry, and they want to eat.
NotesThe juco sophomore came in with the reputation as a head hunter and physical specimen, and he delivered on that hype with a couple monster hits during spring. But as you would expect given low numbers and very few opportunities to scrimmage, a setting like spring camp isn’t going to be one where Turner shines. And in fact he struggled quite a bit to make sure he understood the concepts and the defenses he was asked to understand. But in time he should definitely contribute, even if it’s not right away.
NotesMcIntosh was another pleasant surprise, and one of the reasons why was because of the number of turns the redshirt frosh was able to get. He revamped his body in the offseason, gaining over a dozen pounds, and that showed up in his physical play. That didn’t stop him from showing off his ballhawking skills, coming up with more than a few interceptions along the way. The health of Beaver and Walker will go a long way toward whether or not McIntosh plays a lot right away, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see McIntosh as a regular contributor in 2014. Most likely he’ll need to be.
NotesLewis was another one of the walking wounded, but he was at least in yellow so he could participate in some of the drills during spring. This was important as he redshirted last year while rehabbing an injury. He also gained at least 10 pounds, transforming his body. Because he was hurt as a senior in high school, Lewis hasn’t played a lot of football lately. It’s important he get back out there as soon as he is physically able so he can push forward in Lake’s seating chart.
NotesTypically the walk-ons during spring are simply bodies, tackling dummies for the scholarship guys. Because of the lack of numbers, Vergara got a ton of reps as a corner back and really took advantage of his opportunities. I don’t expect him to compete for playing time in the fall, but his size and experience this spring will benefit the defensive backs group in the fall as he works with the scout team.
NotesWhat is true for Vergara is the same for Biddle, who gained valuable experience this spring simply due to the number of reps he had to participate in. He joined the Huskies via the walk-on tryouts, so you can tell this is something that means a lot to him. Hopefully that passion and enthusiasm helps him this fall with the scout team.
Based on history, as well as how each player finished spring, this is how I would see the starters for the first week of fall camp:
- CB: Sidney Jones
- CB: Darren Gardenhire OR Naijiel Hale
- Safety: Budda Baker
- Safety: Brian Clay OR Jojo McIntosh OR Brandon Beaver
Should any of the true freshmen defensive backs play this fall?: I truly hate to roll out the broken record, but health will rule the day when it comes to the true frosh. Both Austin Joyner and Jordan Miller are talented enough to play this fall, but Lake doesn’t want to have to use them.
With so many players within this position group redshirt-eligible, Lake may try and persuade one or two of them to delay their returns in order to get bigger, faster, stronger, and completely injury-free. Obviously we won’t know the extent of all of this until the fall, but part of the purpose here is to explore hypotheticals. And this hypothetical isn’t that far-fetched.
But again, how would that affect how Lake decides to use or not use Joyner and Miller? If players like King and Turner come back and aren’t 100 percent ready to go, they may have to get used. These coaches have shown no hesitancy in choosing the best player to play regardless of class, so I could envision scenarios where both play this fall.
In an ideal world, the redshirts stay on Joyner and Miller, King and Lewis make full recoveries and compete for a starting cornerback spot, and Beaver and Walker do the same at safety. That’s the way Lake would draw it up.
The next two years, Washington could find themselves short as many as seven defensive backs if players like Baker and Jones decide to toe-dip the NFL Draft waters. That’s also a likely hypothetical, so getting players like Joyner and Miller up to speed as soon as possible doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, especially if they physically come ready to play and their fitness levels are where they need to be.
So in short, there’s a lot of things that will play out with this position group in the fall, a lot of potential storylines and narratives to be explored in a few months.