A post-spring breakdown of the Huskies’ depth chart on defense and special teams, with a key question for each position.

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For the first time since 2002, the Huskies are expected to enter the 2017 season ranked in the top 10 of the preseason AP poll. Already, they’re ranked No. 6 in the Fox Sports post-spring top 25, No. 8 by Sports Illustrated and No. 9 by ESPN.

Here is a post-spring breakdown of the Huskies’ depth chart on defense and special teams, with a key question for each position:

DEFENSIVE LINE

End
Vita Vea, jr., 6-5, 344
Jason Scrempos, so., 6-6, 275
Jared Pulu, so., 6-4, 270*

Tackle
Greg Gaines, jr., 6-2, 321
Shane Bowman, jr., 6-4, 308
Ricky McCoy, so., 6-2, 292

End
Jaylen Johnson, jr., 6-3, 287
Levi Onwuzurike, rs-fr., 6-3, 274
John Clark, so., 6-4, 279**

Incoming freshman
Ali Gaye, 6-6, 276

Key question: Who emerges in the second wave?

The Huskies are in great shape with the first line of the D-line. Vita Vea and Greg Gaines are both future NFL players — perhaps as early as next year — and Jaylen Johnson is a breakout candidate this fall. Behind them are a lot of unknowns. Junior Shane Bowman gained a bunch of weight this winter (he’s up to 308) and played mostly inside this spring with Gaines recovering from a weight-room shoulder/pectoral injury. Bowman had one sack in the spring preview scrimmage and could be the line’s top reserve this season. Chris Petersen singled out of progress made by redshirt freshman Levi Onwuzurike, and Jason Scrempos — limited in the past by a shoulder injury — capped a nice spring with four tackles and a sack in the scrimmage. Ricky McCoy and Jared Pulu each forced fumbles in the scrimmage. McCoy has long been touted for his potential, but he has a ways to go to realize it.

*walk-on
**knee injury to sideline Clark for 2017 season.

LINEBACKER

Buck
Connor O’Brien, sr., 6-3, 224
Benning Potoa’e, so., 6-3, 270
Myles Rice, rs-fr., 6-3, 243
Jusstis Warren, so., 6-2, 243

Middle
Azeem Victor, sr., 6-3, 222
D.J. Beavers, so., 6-0, 227
Sean Constantine, sr., 6-2, 231
Brandon Wellington, so., 5-11, 223
Jake Wambaugh, jr., 6-1, 221*

Weak-side
Keishawn Bierria, sr., 6-1, 230
Ben Burr-Kirven, jr., 6-0, 221
Camilo Eifler, rs-fr., 6-1, 219
Kyler Manu, so., 6-1, 233
Matt Preston, jr., 6-2, 230*

Strong-side
Tevis Bartlett, jr., 6-2, 229
Amandre Williams, 6-2, 230
Bryce Sterk, so., 6-4, 256
Ryan Bowman, rs-fr., 6-0, 267*

Incoming freshmen
Ariel Ngata, 6-2, 202
Joe Tryon, 6-5, 238

Key question: Who steps in as UW’s next great pass-rusher?

This, you might notice, is the same question posed before the start of spring practice — and it remains the most important one for the defense overall. Tevis Bartlett helped answer part of the question. He was the most consistent pass-rusher this spring, and you can lock him in as the starting strong-side ‘backer for the Sept. 1 opener at Rutgers. The Buck ‘backer/rush-end position remains a question mark. Connor O’Brien is coming off knee surgery, and Benning Potoa’e missed about half of the spring practices with a minor injury. That opened the door for Myles Rice, who had probably the best spring of all the young linebackers. He looks like he could help this fall, with the likes of Amandre Williams, Bryce Sterk, Ryan Bowman and Jusstis Warren also in the mix on the outside.

Inside, the Huskies might have the best depth of any position unit. Azeem Victor had a good spring coming back from a broken leg, and Keishawn Bierria is the heartbeat of the defense. Ben Burr-Kirven, D.J. Beavers and Sean Constantine are all good enough to start, too. Other than injuries, not a single worry here.

SECONDARY

Cornerback
Jordan Miller, jr., 6-1, 183
Jomon Dotson, jr., 5-10, 183
Sean Vergara, jr., 6-2, 188*
Brandon Lewis, jr., 5-11, 186

Cornerback
Byron Murphy, rs-fr., 5-11, 177
Austin Joyner, so., 5-10, 187
Kentrell Love, rs-fr., 6-1, 182
Ian Biddle, jr., 6-0, 184*

Nickelback
Myles Bryant, so., 5-8, 178*

Strong safety
JoJo McIntosh, jr., 6-1, 215
Ezekiel Turner, sr., 6-2, 207

Free safety
Taylor Rapp, so., 6-0, 207
Isaiah Gilchrist, rs-fr., 5-10, 201
Mason Stone, jr., 6-0, 179*

Incoming freshmen
Brandon McKinney, S, 6-0, 191
Elijah Molden, CB, 5-10, 181
Keith Taylor, CB, 6-3, 189

Key question: Who replaces Budda Baker as the nickelback?

Second-year sophomore walk-on Myles Bryant, who impressed coaches enough to play as a true freshman last year, spent much of the spring as the No. 1 nickelback. Taylor Rapp also spent some time in the nickel, and could conceivably become the regular starter there, with JoJo McIntosh and Ezekiel Turner certainly capable of manning the two traditional safety spots. But the hunch here is Rapp is best suited as the freelancing free safety, meaning the nickel spot is up for grabs come August. Bryant is a viable option, and incoming freshmen Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor figure to get an opportunity there, too.

On the outside, Jordan Miller looked the part of a CB1 throughout the spring, and Byron Murphy was the team’s No. 1 breakout player. You can’t expect a seamless transition from the likes of Sidney Jones and Kevin King, but the Huskies should be just fine at corner.

At safety, there’s a nice mix of size, speed and young depth. Rapp is an emerging star, and the Bash Brothers — McIntosh and Turner — should have some fun this fall. The Huskies are losing veteran Trevor Walker, who is seeking options to transfer as a graduated senior.

SPECIALISTS

Kicker
Tristan Vizcaino, sr., 6-2, 202
Sebastian Valerio, so., 5-9, 176*

Punter
Joel Whitford, so., 6-3, 219
Van Soderberg, rs-fr., 6-0, 200
Race Porter, fr., 6-1, 177*

Snapper
A.J. Carty, so., 6-2, 231
Luke Lane, rsfr., 5-11, 215

Key question: Who steps in as the new kicker?

Tristan Vizcaino is the man. He made that clear during the spring, even with limited opportunities to kick in “live” situations. The team’s primary punter last year, Vizcaino has by far the team’s biggest leg among the place-kickers, and he’ll likely stick as the kickoff specialist, too. Similarly, Australian punter Joel Whitford made a great first impression this spring, and he probably has the team’s strongest leg overall. He will almost certainly take over as the primary punter.