Budda Baker, Kevin King and Sidney Jones are gone, but expectations for UW's secondary are as high as ever.
After his first NFL preseason game, Budda Baker is already drawing comparisons to an All-Pro teammate in Arizona. Kevin King is a hit in Green Bay. And there’s little doubt that Sidney Jones, when healthy, will emerge as a starting cornerback in Philadelphia.
Back in Seattle, Jimmy Lake is trying to cope with life without those three stars — three of the best defensive backs in Husky history.
Except, Lake sounds as optimistic as ever.
“If anything,” UW’s co-defensive coordinator said Thursday, “we’re already 10 times better than where we’ve been.”
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Wait, 10 times better?
“I’m talking about technique-wise and learning the scheme — 10 times better in that regard.”
He added a key addendum.
“Now,” he said, “we’ve got to go do it three weeks from now (against Rutgers). There’s a lot of guys that have never played a college football game or have never been in that position to be a starter.”
The Huskies are young and inexperienced in the secondary. Junior Jordan Miller, penciled in as one starting cornerback, played mostly on special teams his first two seasons at UW. Redshirt freshman Byron Murphy, an emerging star, has never played a snap in college football.
Even so, Lake says he hasn’t had to simplify or cut back on coverage schemes. He says he’s actually added more to the playbook.
“These guys that are penciled in as starters right now, there is no going back,” he said. “They know what the recipe looks like. They know what our coverages are. They know what our technique is.”
In other words, the expectations for one of the nation’s best secondaries the past two years hasn’t changed.
The up-and-comers learned from the likes of Baker, King and Jones the past two years. They saw up close the preparation it took to get to that level, to become elite, and in that regard Lake says the young defensive backs are better prepared to sustain that level of success.
“That’s the nice thing about being around great players, players who have done it before like Budda, like Kev, like Sid. They saw how those guys worked,” Lake said. “They saw how they were in the meeting room. They saw them practice every day, competing. And then the extra stuff — all the extra meetings. So they see what it is to get to that level. And I think these guys are putting in the work right now.”
The Huskies led the nation in takeaways last season, with 33 in 14 games. That included a Pac-12-best 19 interceptions.
“Our standard’s really high, especially after last year,” Miller said Thursday. “Now we’ve got new guys and our standard’s (still) really high. Everyone needs to play to that standard.”
The Huskies have experience at safety, with Jojo McIntosh, Taylor Rapp and Ezekiel Turner all projected starters for the Sept. 1 opener at Rutgers. (Rapp has been limited in practice this week, but Lake said he is not concerned about a long-term injury.)
Sophomores Austin Joyner and Myles Bryant have been excellent working mostly with the second-team defense during fall camp. They will be part of the rotation, and both will continue to push the penciled-in starters.
Cornerback Jomon Dotson and safeties Isaiah Gilchrist and Kentrell Love have been steady with the second-team defense, and freshmen Elijah Molden, Brandon McKinney and Keith Taylor are coming along at an “unbelievable pace” in their first camp, Lake said.
The secondary has been labeled, by some, as the team’s biggest question mark coming into the season. Early results in fall camp show it could ultimately end up being a position of strength, once again.