With spring football just around the corner, here's a position-by-position look at the roster and what to expect over the next month

The development of the Husky secondary between the 2014 and 2015 seasons was incredible. Two years ago, the Huskies were 10th in the PAC-12 in pass defense, allowing over 4000 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air.

An injury to Jermaine Kelly and the dismissal of Marcus Peters forced true frosh Sidney Jones and wide receiver John Ross to man the two corner spots. Meanwhile, another true freshman Budda Baker, was starting at safety alongside Kevin King. The pieced together Husky secondary was inexperienced and overwhelmed. However, the following year took on a totally different narrative.

The early experience for Jones and Baker paid off huge for Washington, as both would go on to be named first team all-conference after the 2015 season.

https://twitter.com/UW_Football/status/671787992449605632.

King, who converted to corner, also earned honorable mention recognition from the Pac-12. Those three, along with Darren Gardenhire, Jojo McIntosh, Brandon Beaver, and Jordan Miller accounted for 14 interceptions as a defensive backfield last season. This was all done while allowing just under 3000 passing yards and only 11 touchdowns.

Starting strong safety Brian Clay is the only Dawg departing due to graduation. Otherwise, the already talented Husky defensive backfield is coming back with another season of experience under their belt, as well as another offseason of development.

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Position Group (By Class)

Kevin King (6-3, 183, Sr.)

Brandon Beaver (6-0, 196, Sr.)

Hayden Schuh (6-0, 207, Sr.) *

Budda Baker (5-10, 178, Jr.)

Sidney Jones (6-0, 178, Jr.)

Darren Gardenhire (5-11, 185, Jr.)

Ezekiel Turner (6-2, 206, Jr.)

Trevor Walker (5-11, 188, Jr.)

Jojo McIntosh (6-0, 196, So.)

Brandon Lewis (5-10, 186, So.)

Jordan Miller (6-0, 163, So.)

Sean Vergara (6-2, 178, So.) *

Ian Biddle (6-0, 181, So.) *

Mason Stone (6-0, 180, So.)*

Austin Joyner (5-10, 186, RFr.)

De'Andre' Watson (5-11, 191, RFr.) *

Dustin Bush (5-9, 171, RFr.) *

Taylor Rapp (5-11, 196, Fr.)

* = walk-on

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Death Row

The new nickname for the Husky defense has an unofficial spokesperson in Kevin King.

At the Husky combine, King said that when “Death Row” takes the field, “It’s execution time. Get ready for that, have your last meal, your last prayer, we're ready to go out there and get it.”

It's an intimidating nickname that seems to fit well with the Pac-12’s leading defense. The majority of that defense is returning, including three of the four starting defensive backs. Sidney Jones will again be a shutdown corner for the Huskies, with both Kevin King and Darren Gardenhire playing on the other side. When in the nickel package, King will most likely return to his spot as nickel back.

Budda Baker has started in every game he’s played in since arriving at the UW, and has earned freshman All-American, as well as first team All-Pac-12 during over his first two seasons. As impressive as his first two seasons have been, it looked like there might be even more in store for the 2016 campaign; he posted a (hand-timed) 4.35 forty at the Husky combine, which he later revealed was the fastest he’s ever run it. 

https://twitter.com/UW_Football/status/706678968531857409

He also mentioned that he weighs 184 pounds now, nearly 15 pounds more than his weight at the end of last season. His goal is to reach 190 pounds by the end of the year. The development of the defensive backfield has been a sight to see over the two years under Jimmy Lake; we’ll get a sneak peak of what more the group is capable of this spring.

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Something To Play For

With just one year of eligibility left, Kevin King has an opportunity to prove himself worthy of a selection in the 2017 NFL draft. While there have had plenty of UW defenders that have gone on to get drafted in recent years, the secondary has gotten a lot of love recently; both Desmond Trufant and Marcus Peters went on to get picked in the first round. There’s no doubt King has the athleticism to play on Sundays as his combine numbers speak loudly to that. He finished second in the broad and vertical jumps and posted the top times in the three-cone drill and pro-agility tests. 

https://twitter.com/UW_Football/status/706680383039909888

On top of his athleticism, King has a great body for the NFL. At the combine, he admitted to, “watching a lot of film of Richard Sherman and a lot of longer guys with similar body types.  I’m trying to perfect my craft, trying to get ready for the next level, but first and foremost for this season.”

While I don’t doubt that this season is his top priority, King knows a successful senior season could eventually lead to him hearing his name called in the 2017 NFL Draft. 

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Depth

Even with players with as much experience and talent as Jones, King, and Gardenhire at corner, depth is still a valuable asset for any team. In fact, there might not be a better example of how beneficial a year of getting snaps on special teams while getting the occasional garbage time rep at corner can do for a player’s development than Gardenhire - which is what he did in 2014 before stepping up and starting nine games last year. With King definitely gone after this next season, and Jones and Gardenhire eligible to declare for the 2017 draft, getting some younger players a little experience is certainly in the best interests for Washington.

Fortunately, the list of talented corners on the roster doesn’t end after just those three players. Jordan Miller earned a little playing time a year ago as a true freshman. In fact, he saw the field in every game. While the majority of his playing time came on special teams, he was able to intercept a pass against Oregon State and returned it for 55 yards before getting stopped. His official weight last year was 163 pounds; he's now listed at 176 - a pretty significant body change. It will be interesting to see how that change manifests itself out on the field. 

Brandon Lewis, who earned first team all-academic honors https://twitter.com/UW_Football/status/669623549687037952 played in two fewer games than Miller did. Unlike Miller, he wasn’t able to haul in an interception. However, last season was Lewis’s second in the Husky system. He’ll come to spring camp looking to make enough of an appearance to earn a few more reps his redshirt sophomore season. 

The other corner worth keeping an eye on in camp is Austin Joyner. Joyner was a four-star, in-state recruit who earned playing time in each of the first two games for the Huskies. However, playing the second game of the year, Joyner injured his knee and was sidelined for the rest of the season. Will Joyner be healthy enough to participate in spring ball? If he is, it will be interesting to see where he is compared to Lewis and Miller, who had the benefit of playing double-digit games last year.

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Open Competition

The only player from last year’s secondary that moved on was senior safety Brian Clay. His absence leaves an opening opposite Budda Baker. Fortunately for the Huskies, there are a variety of ways they could fill that hole.

Their options with the most experience are Trevor Walker and Brandon Beaver.

Over the course of four years, Beaver has played in 24 games but has only started one. His redshirt junior campaign came to an end early after getting injured against Oregon. Beaver was also a part of one of the year’s highlights, nearly taking an interception the entire length of the field for a six points. Having been sidelined since October, it will be interesting to see how Beaver has recovered.??

Trevor Walker, like Beaver, is fresh off rehabbing an injury. However, Walker’s injury kept him out the entire season. In fact, after starting three games early in 2014, his sophomore campaign came to an early end and he hasn’t played since. Regardless of if he’s 100 percent or not, nearly two years without playing a football game is a long time. His ability to overcome some rust may be just as big as the way he’s able to bounce back from his injury.

After redshirting his first year on campus, Jojo McIntosh was an essential contributor to the Husky defense his redshirt freshman year. Totaling 38 tackles and one interception, he had a two-week stretch during the season against Stanford and Arizona in which he racked up 13 tackles, broke up one pass, and intercepted another. With a solid season under his belt, McIntosh has every chance to earn a starting role next season.

Ezekiel Turner enrolled at UW last year after a year at Los Angeles's Pierce College; he was the fourth-ranked junior college safety in his class. Physically, Turner puts the “strong” in strong safety, standing 6-foot-2 and weighing in at 210 pounds. In 12 games last year, Turner recorded 22 tackles, including a season-high seven tackles in his lone start against Stanford. He was a solid contributor his first year in the program behind Brian Clay. With Clay gone, he has a huge opportunity to expand his role as a junior.

?Lastly, early enrollee Taylor Rapp and walk-on redshirt sophomore Mason Stone will be in the mix for some reps this spring. As a freshman in a battle with four other players for playing time, the likelihood of Rapp getting much time at safety is low. His key to finding a role on the 2016 Husky defense is becoming a special teams stud. However, Rapp could be just an injury or two away from significant minutes. With that in mind, there’s no reason to hold Rapp out from getting any snaps during spring ball.

Stone may have a little more of a shot to make an impact simply because of his age, maturity and experience playing at Santa Monica College. The former Mountlake Terrace standout gave up scholarship opportunities at schools like Northern Colorado and Idaho State to walk on with the Huskies, so his motivation is completely apparent. 

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What Does Spring Mean For This Group?

The biggest storyline of the spring is the battle for the safety spot opposite Budda Baker. Otherwise, spring ball will just be several more practices to gear experienced starters up for the fall, while getting younger players a few more reps.

Getting players like Trevor Walker and Brandon Beaver up to speed after coming off injuries is also a priority.

Either way, there won’t be much other than the safety battle until this fall, when the rest of the incredibly talented recruiting class gets on campus.

When that happens, we’ll see how 2016 high school signees Byron Murphy and Isaiah Gilchrist, with college-ready bodies already, fare against the rest of the depth on the roster in the fall.

It’s hard to imagine a guy as talented as Murphy, who can make a dent in all three phases of the game, would sit out a year and redshirt.

Gilchrist has the size and the speed to make and impact, but there’s enough depth at corner that he would need to prove that he’s giving a few minutes in order to justify burning his redshirt.

On the other hand, a fellow signee like Kentrell Love, who is still on the skinny side of 170 pounds, would most likely benefit from a year in the weight room, filling out his Kevin King like frame.

Before all that happens, aside from the competition at the safety spot opposite Budda Baker, spring will have little meaning in terms of players moving up and down the depth chart. A lot of that can be credited to the fact that the majority of the members of the Husky secondary are returning. However, the practices should go a long way in the development of those already on campus and will contribute to Washington’s effort to improve on last year’s impressive statistics in the secondary.

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Best Guess Spring Depth Chart 

Cornerback

Kevin King (6-3, 183, Sr.)

Darren Gardenhire (5-11, 185, Jr.)

Austin Joyner (5-10, 186, RFr.)

Dustin Bush (5-9, 171, RFr.) *

Cornerback

Sidney Jones (6-0, 178, Jr.)

Jordan Miller (6-0, 163, So.)

Brandon Lewis (5-10, 186, So.)

Sean Vergara (6-2, 178, So.) *

Safety

Budda Baker (5-10, 178, Jr.)

Ezekiel Turner (6-2, 206, Jr.)

Hayden Schuh (6-0, 207, Sr.) * 

Taylor Rapp (5-11, 196, Fr.)

Ian Biddle (6-0, 181, So.) *

Safety

Brandon Beaver (6-0, 196, Sr.) OR

Jojo McIntosh (6-0, 196, So.)

Trevor Walker (5-11, 188, Jr.)

Mason Stone (6-0, 180, So.) *

De'Andre' Watson (5-11, 191, RFr.) *

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Spring Position Preview - Quarterbacks

Spring Position Preview - Running Backs

Spring Position Preview - Receivers

Spring Position Preview - Tight Ends

Spring Position Preview - Offensive Line

Spring Position Preview - Defensive Line

Spring Position Preview - Linebackers


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