Jordan Miller's return from a broken ankle adds to intriguing battle at right cornerback.

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The directive from Jimmy Lake to his defensive backs can be summarized with two words: Make plays.

At a remarkably deep and intensely competitive position, those defensive backs who consistently make plays during the Huskies’ fall camp will get an opportunity to see the field when No. 6 Washington opens the season against No. 10 Auburn on Sept. 1 in Atlanta.

And almost as important, the one defensive back who makes the most plays — who comes down with the most interceptions — will get his name etched on a highly coveted trophy at the end of camp.

Byron Murphy, for one, is determined to get the prize back.

Despite missing seven games with a broken foot, Murphy had a team-high three interceptions during the 2017 season to claim the “Best Hands in the Room” ball. In the spring, sophomore Elijah Molden took the prize with five interceptions in 15 practices.

Now the trophy ball is up for grabs again.

“I go back and forth with (Molden): ‘You’re not going to get it this time.’ … He deserved the ball (in the spring), but not this time,” Murphy said.

Murphy made a big play in Friday’s first practice of fall camp, intercepting Jake Browning’s first throw during a 7-on-7 drill. Junior cornerback Dustin Bush also had an interception Friday (and recovered a fumble).

Each season — fall camp, regular season, spring ball — the official recording of each interception is the responsibility of the youngest defensive back in the room. This month, that falls on Dominique Hampton, a 6-foot-2 freshman from Glendale, Ariz.

After each practice, it’s Hampton job to make sure each interception is properly noted on the “Pick Board” displayed prominently in the defensive backs’ meeting room. (And it’s Hampton’s job, as the de facto secretary of the position, to make sure each member of the secondary is present before the start of every position meeting and every team meeting.)

The competition for the “Best Hands” trophy — and for playing time — seems to get tougher each season. The Huskies return all five starters from the secondary — their only loss was the graduate of versatile sixth man Ezekiel Turner, who is now in his first NFL camp with the Arizona Cardinals — and the additions of Hampton and fellow freshmen Julius Irvin and Kyler Gordon has made the position even deeper.

Irvin, a touted four-star recruit out of Southern California and the son of former NFL safety LeRoy Irvin, batted down the first two pass attempts that came his way in Friday’s first team period.

“They challenged him early. He got beat on a play (later), but that’s the way it’s going to go,” said Lake, UW’s defensive coordinator and secondary coach. “These young guys, it’s going to get easier as we go. There’s going to be new calls tomorrow, new calls the next day, so they’re going to fall a bit behind, but as soon as they get their new technique honed in, and they get the gist of how we do things, they’re going to be just fine. I’m very excited about their athleticism and their speed and their want-to. Now they’ve just got to learn it.”

Murphy is impressed with the freshmen.

“The younger guys, I’m not going to lie, they (understand) the defense better than when I got here,” he said. “They’re know all our details and they’re catching on real good.”

Miller time

Murphy opened the first team period Friday as the left cornerback with the No. 1 defense. It’s unlikely anyone will unseat him.

The competition at right cornerback is one of the most intriguing position battles in camp. Junior Austin Joyner was the right corner with the first-team defense  Friday, and sophomore Keith Taylor had a strong spring to enter the mix.

Senior Jordan Miller will ease back into the competition in his return from a broken ankle. He took part in position drills Friday but didn’t get any snaps during team periods.

“I feel like we’re a family,” Miller said. “It’s so evident from top to bottom, from freshman to senior, everybody’s a family. We all love each other. We all want each other to succeed, and that’s really how it is. It’s always been like that, but I feel like it’s growing as we’ve been here longer.”

Miller was lost to the season-ending injury last October, in the waning moments of the Huskies’ loss at Arizona State.

“Jordan and I go way back, and he’s one of the tougher players I’ve been around,” Lake said. “He had a devastating injury. And I remember the moment after it happened and we were in the locker room at the end of the game, we’re all hurt because we lost the game and then hurt because we just lost one of our best players, and he looked at me dead in the eyes and said, ‘Coach, I’m going to be back. I’m going to be back.’

“He attacked his rehab, and for him to be out there (Friday) moving around the way he did in our drills — and I told him straight up, ‘You can be mad at me all you want, you’re not getting a (team) rep today. I know you could get a rep today, but guess what? You’re not getting one.’ And he understood. He went out there and did his thing in our DB drills and looked awesome, and we’re just going to kind of spoon-feed him as we go. We’re in no rush. He’s played a lot of football, but he looked great today.”