Defensive Backs (By Year)
Turner proved to be every bit the thumper Jojo McIntosh was last year. He only has a couple starts under his belt since coming from junior college in 2015 but also has played in 25 games in that same span, so he's very much a veteran who will be counted on this fall. This spring he showed that he could easily jump into a first team role when Secondary Coach Jimmy Lake asked Taylor Rapp to run some nickel.
Walker had two tackles in the Spring Preview. Like Turner, Walker is another senior safety looking to make his mark one last time this fall. So far in his Washington career he has played in 27 games, starting three of them. Was plagued with injuries for a couple seasons before last year, so it's a great sign that he was able to go through all of spring without a hitch.
McIntosh led the secondary with four tackles during the Spring Preview, a fact you might expect from the new veteran leader of the secondary. Now that Budda Baker, Kevin King and Sidney Jones are gone, it's up to the guys like McIntosh, who has started 13 games last year and has played in 26 games the previous two seasons. That makes you an experienced player in this relatively new-look defensive backfield. Now at 215 pounds, McIntosh gained six pounds in the offseason to give his hits even more pop.
Miller had two tackles in the Spring Preview. From the beginning of spring it was kind of assumed that Miller, who has played in all 27 games the Huskies have played the last two years but doesn't have a start to his name yet, would be one of the players to replace Kevin King and Sidney Jones out on an island. Miller had a chance to impose himself last year, but King and Jones were just that good. But now it's the junior-to-be's chance to solidify his place as a potential two-year starter at cornerback and he did everything this spring you would expect a potential starter to do. He imposed himself physically, shut down his side of the field, and generally just made things tough for opposing receivers.
Dotson had two passes defensed during the Spring Preview. The recently converted running back showed he had all the athleticism you need to play defense, and then some, when he jumped 39.5 inches in the vertical jump and ran the fastest 40 on the team - 4.38. Unfortunately for Dotson he couldn't wiggle his way on to the field that much running the ball, so he opted for defense. So far it's been an interesting move. He's been in that loaded second tier of corners looking to break out, and so far he's been battling redshirt sophomore Austin Joyner, redshirt frosh Kentrell Love and sophomore walk-on Myles Bryant for playing time. It's been a spirited battle, one I expect will be re-joined in August.
Lewis suffered through a spring where he wasn't available, and that was a real shame because he came to UW amid injury concerns and now they have crept up again. Lewis played in 16 games the prior two seasons, so if he can get back to being fully fit he's got a chance to work his way back into the battle for playing time, but with the young players coming through and even more this fall it's looking more and more like Lewis has a seriously uphill battle ahead of him.
Stone had two tackles in the Spring Preview, as well as an interception. The pick was a thing of beauty, a long ball thrown by Tony Rodriguez that looked to be all but completed. The walk-on junior-to-be from Mountlake Terrace flashed right in front of the receiver to pick the ball off on a dead run. It was a great play, and probably the best play of the spring for Stone. He continues to play behind all the scholarshipped safeties, but did play in four games last season.
Vergara had one tackle in the Spring Preview. The walk-on junior-to-be from Selah saw game time three times last year, so there's no question he has a chance to do more this fall. It might be a bit of a slog getting through all the scholarship safeties on the roster, and prep standout Brandon McKinney will be joining UW in the summer, but Vergara does have a couple years' head start on him and Lake will most likely do everything he can to redshirt McKinney.
The true sophomore from Bellingham had one pass breakup during the Spring Preview. Many may be asking themselves, what can Taylor Rapp do to top his 2016 true freshman season at Washington? All he did was earn Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year and All-America First Team honors from USA Today and others. Not a bad way to christen your career in the purple and gold. But now he's added some additional responsibilities this spring, namely nickel. Coach Lake likes what Rapp can bring to the position - smarts, athleticism, and position versatility. The future is very bright for Rapp.
After getting hurt as a true freshman, it was a positive development for Joyner that he was able to recover fully and play in 10 games this past year. He seemed to be somewhat limited in what he could do early in spring, but by the end he apparently was full-go and didn't have any issues. Behind Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy, Joyner is one of a handful of talented cornerbacks that could see a lot of playing time in the fall. He didn't separate himself from the pack, but he did put his name right in the mix.
The true sophomore walk-on had two tackles in the Spring Preview, including one tackle for loss and one sack for minus-3 yards, and one forced fumble. It was the culmination of a fantastic spring for Bryant, one that saw him not only compete for big playing time outside, but also at nickel. Many who saw him play last year aren't surprised: Bryant played in 11 games last year as a true frosh. And as a walk-on to boot, which is impressive enough on its own. But Bryant has put himself squarely in Lake's frame when it comes to figuring out who he can trust to play. He's not a big guy, but did gain six pounds last season to get ready for this next push forward.
Murphy led all the cornerbacks with three tackles during the Spring Preview, as well as having one pass breakup. Redshirting Murphy, the high school phenom from Arizona, may have been one of the tougher decisions Lake has made so far, but it's already paid off handsomely as Murphy has more than shown himself to be capable of starting this fall at corner. His ball skills are going to remind many of Sidney Jones, and what he does with the ball in his hands once he gets it is going to remind others of Budda Baker. Murphy is a special talent, and all his gifts were on full display this spring.
Love had one tackle in the Spring Preview. One of the three redshirt frosh defensive backs, Love did a lot of work in the weight room to get himself ready for the spring, adding 10 pounds to his frame. He came from a big-time program in Corona Centennial in southern California, so he's used to playing at a high level. He took that ethic and that experience with him to the field this spring, and it paid off for him. He's put himself right in contention for a spot in this fall's two-deeps, and might see extensive game action depending on how things go. He has long levers like Kevin King and definitely enough athleticism to get the job done when asked.
Gilchrist had one tackle in the Spring Preview, as well as an interception he returned 26 yards. Many thought safety might be in Gilchrist's future, especially with the chance to follow the footsteps of his good friend and former Bellevue teammate Budda Baker. We saw a lot of it this spring, with the redshirt frosh splitting time between corner and safety, but mostly safety. It sure feels like safety is going to be in his immediate future, but Lake loves versatility. Having a player like Isaiah that has experience at both spots can only enhance the defensive back group.
Brown had one tackle in the Spring Preview. Is he the next Hayden Schuh? Well, he's got red hair, walked on, and wears number 38 - all the same things you could have said about Schuh, who just graduated. This was the first time putting on the purple and gold for Brown, as he delayed his enrollment, so we haven't really gotten a chance to see what he can do. He was just getting his feet wet. We'll see a lot more in the fall when the workload ramps up.
Where does the Defensive Backs group stand heading into the summer?
The biggest question for the secondary going into the spring was an obvious one: who would immediately step in and show themselves as the next in line to replace the three NFL-bound starters? It seemed inconceivable going into April that the Huskies would find ready-made replacements for Sidney Jones, Kevin King and Budda Baker, but Jimmy Lake and his group of secondary players took a big crack at it - and came up with some solid work.
It sure feels after 15 practices like Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy have the inside track in the race to replace Jones and King. That much felt quite apparent early on. We've been touting for some time that it was just a matter of time for Miller, and also felt like it was a genuine coup - as well as complete luxury - for Lake to be able to redshirt Murphy last season. Both came out of the blocks strong for spring and never really let up.
In the chase for spots in the two deeps, Myles Bryant, Austin Joyner, Kentrell Love and running back convert Jomon Dotson are hot on the heels of Miller and Murphy. With four talented options behind the two frontrunners, it feels like real world experience is the only thing keeping this group from achieving big things in the fall.
In the search for the next Budda Baker, that was always going to be hard work for Lake. It's awfully hard to reproduce what Baker gave to that secondary off the field in terms of leadership, as well as what he obviously did on the field. But Rapp and McIntosh sure picked up right where they left off last season, and having two seniors right on their backs meant the two deeps kind of took care of themselves right from the jump.
The 'x' factor became Gilchrist, who started to really pick things up and showed glimpses of his potential as a future safety. Could he work his way into the two-deeps this fall? If he doesn't, the graduations of Walker and Turner after this upcoming season mean he should be a shoe-in as long as he continues to take care of business.
Defensive Backs Depth Chart
6 Byron Murphy (5-11, 177, RFr.)
31 Myles Bryant (5-8, 178, So.)* OR
4 Austin Joyner (5-10, 187, So.)
39 Sean Vergara (6-2, 188, Jr.)*
23 Jordan Miller (6-1, 183, Jr.)
12 Kentrell Love (6-1, 182, RFr.) OR
20 Jomon Dotson (5-10, 183, Jr.)
19 Brandon Lewis (5-11, 186, Jr.) (INJ)
21 Taylor Rapp (6-0, 207, So.)
27 Trevor Walker (5-11, 188, Sr.) OR
18 Isaiah Gilchrist (5-10, 201, RFr.)
38 Zach Brown (5-10, 184, Fr.)*
14 Jojo McIntosh (6-1, 215, Jr.)
24 Ezekiel Turner (6-2, 207, Sr.)
35 Mason Stone (6-0, 179, Jr.)*
31 Myles Bryant (5-8, 178, So.)*
21 Taylor Rapp (6-0, 207, So.)
4 Austin Joyner (5-10, 187, So.)
* = walk-on