Shaq Thompson emerged as a do-it-all All-American for the Washington Huskies last season. John Ross III starred as a wide receiver, cornerback and kickoff returner. The early returns this spring suggest Budda Baker could be the Huskies’ next two-way threat.
Shaq Thompson emerged as a do-it-all All-American for the Washington Huskies last season. John Ross III starred as a wide receiver, cornerback and kickoff returner.
The early returns this spring suggest Budda Baker could be the Huskies’ next two-way threat.
Fulfilling a promise they made while recruiting Baker out of Bellevue High School, UW coaches at Friday’s practice tried the sophomore free safety on offense for the first time this spring. UW coach Chris Petersen, as he was with Thompson at this time a year ago, is intrigued by what Baker might be able to add to the offense in a specialty role.
Baker has also been working closely with Petersen as a punt returner.
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“We’ll get him more involved in that whole thing,” Petersen said. “I think he’s a dynamic guy on both sides of the ball (and) he will definitely be factored into our return game.”
As a true freshman last season, the 5-foot-10, 176-pound Baker started every game and played more snaps than anyone on the UW defense — 1,019 in all. He had 80 tackles and earned honorable-mention All-Pac-12 honors and freshman All-American recognition from several publications.
Jimmy Lake, UW’s defensive backs coach, said it was “awesome” to see Baker take a handful of snaps at running back and slot receiver.
“We have to utilize the talent,” he said. “We all know he’s a talented football player and very, very smart and so tough and competitive. It’s going to be fun to watch him on that side of the ball.”
But, Lake added, make no mistake: Baker is a safety first.
“They’re not going to get him full time (on offense), I know that,” Lake said, smiling.
Baker said he was thinking too much last season instead of reacting naturally and fluidly. He said those things will come with a greater understanding of the defensive playbook.
“Right now I’m just having fun and having better vision around the field,” he said earlier this month.
Strong safeties to consider
Baker, we know, is entrenched at free safety. Next to him in the secondary, the strong safety job is up for grabs this spring.
Senior Brian Clay has spent much of the spring working alongside Baker with the No. 1 defense. Meanwhile, two newer faces — redshirt freshman Jojo McIntosh (6-foot, 204 pounds) and junior-college transfer Ezekiel Turner (6-2, 204) — have emerged as two of the most feared hitters on the team, even with virtually no live tackling yet.
“I know our receivers and our running backs know where they are on the field now,” Lake said of the two strong safeties. “They are definitely a presence to be dealt with.”
McIntosh, who gained 13 pounds in UW’s winter weight-training program, had two of the defense’s four interceptions during team drills Friday.
“When he comes up to support the run,” Lake said, “you can really feel him.”
UW’s most veteran defensive back, Kevin King, has not practiced this spring because of an undisclosed injury. King, listed at 6-3, 182 pounds, started 12 games at strong safety last fall, but when he returns to action he will get a chance to claim one starting cornerback job. He could also be valuable in a jack-of-all-trades role, capable of playing multiple positions in UW’s nickel and dime packages.