Keith Taylor has appeared in 26 games in his first two seasons at Washington. He has made a pair of starts. He has turned in 23 total tackles, four passes defended and 1.5 tackles for loss. His 0.51 yards allowed per coverage snap in 2018 topped all Pac-12 cornerbacks, according to Pro Football Focus.
But heading into his junior season, he’s still stuck on zero career interceptions.
And yet, according to UW defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake, that absence of takeaways is not Taylor’s primary concern this spring.
“I was very pleased with him last year, the games he had to start and step in when Jordan Miller was hurt,” Lake said Monday. “He played big-time football for us down the stretch. He’s obviously running right now with the first team. The biggest thing for him right now to take that next step is to have more of a leadership role. He’s got to be a vocal guy for us. We’ve lost some vocal guys this last year, and now he’s the guy.
“I think technically, right now, he’s right on pace with all of his man skills and zone skills. He’s right on pace. We’ve just got to tweak a few things. But for him it’s going to be more of that leadership role. When things aren’t going right in practice, all the younger guys are going to be looking at him now. He’s now the older guy.”
He’s also the bigger, longer, rangier guy, listed at 6 feet 3 and 198 pounds. The junior from Long Beach, Calif., has been a starting staple at cornerback through three weeks of the spring. A handful of Huskies — namely Elijah Molden, Kyler Gordon and Dominique Hampton — have earned starting reps on the opposite side, while Molden and senior Myles Bryant have rotated at nickel.
Taylor has been the cornerback constant, and that should come as no surprise. The rising junior is already a proven contributor.
Now he needs to lead — and maybe pile up a couple picks.
“We’re always working on our ball skills, which we do in practice all the time. He’s got to cash in when the opportunity presents itself,” Lake said. “He was close last year, but right now he has zero career interceptions. We’re hoping to change that this next fall.”
Nothing set at safety?
Like Taylor, rising junior safety Brandon McKinney has been a starter during every practice open to the media this spring. He’s also the only Husky with any starting experience at safety.
In 27 career games, McKinney has registered 29 tackles and one tackle for loss. His first career start came in the Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State, when the 6-0, 201-pounder stepped in for the injured Taylor Rapp and finished with two tackles.
On Monday, Lake was asked how that (albeit limited) starting experience might benefit McKinney this spring and fall.
And his answer certainly didn’t suggest a starting spot had been secured.
“Anytime you get a start in a big game like that, you’re going to have some lasting memories of the good things and the bad things,” Lake said. “Anytime you get a chance to have that many reps in a big game, it’s going to help you down the road. So he’s going to continue to get reps.
“We’re very young at that position. We’re going to see a lot of different guys back there. It’s going to be a competitive training camp. We’ve got more guys coming in. It’s going to be awesome to see what happens.”
That doesn’t exactly sound like a ringing endorsement. Still, the Huskies aren’t overflowing with available options, either. Senior Myles Bryant, junior Isaiah Gilchrist and early enrollee freshman Cameron Williams have each earned starting reps beside McKinney this spring. The only other scholarship player fully practicing at the position is converted wide receiver Alex Cook.
Things will certainly get more interesting in August, when injured redshirt freshman Julius Irvin is fully cleared to return and highly touted four-star freshman Asa Turner gets added to the competition.
Maybe that Rose Bowl start will be the first of many for McKinney. Or, maybe not. There are few answers to be found in April.
Saturday’s UW Spring Preview will undoubtedly be fun for the fans. They’ll tailgate (if the weather allows). They’ll pick from a wide variety of available seats inside a half-filled Husky Stadium. They’ll marvel at junior quarterback Jacob Eason’s right arm and catch an advanced screening of UW’s supposedly reloaded defense. Some will sink into their couches, opting to instead watch Washington’s Spring Preview on the Pac-12 Network.
For the fans, the appeal is obvious.
But earlier this month, Huskies coach Chris Petersen said he holds a spring game simply because “they make us do it and put it on TV.”
So, how — if at all — does Saturday’s spectacle benefit UW’s coaches and players?
“What I really enjoy is that it’s a spotlight on the guys — having to perform in front of people, in front of fans, in front of their families,” Lake said. “It’s the closest thing we can get to an actual game, where you actually get those butterflies.
“So as a coach, we want to see how these guys are going to respond. Are they going to melt when the lights are shining bright, or are they going to raise their game up and make plays? That’s what I always like to see, how guys react in a tense situation with a lot of eyeballs watching.”
Scouting other spring games
Speaking of spring games, Lake was asked Monday if he scouts the televised spring games of Washington’s Pac-12 opponents.
The second-year UW defensive coordinator’s answer could not have been more clear.
“I don’t care about all those other teams. I couldn’t care less,” Lake said. “I know what we’re doing. Hell. no. I don’t care about any of those guys. No. I’m worried about the University of Washington. I don’t know what they’re doing. They could be having spring break right now on the beach. I don’t know what they’re doing. I don’t care.”
“Do you pay attention after it’s done?” the reporter countered.
“No. No. I do not,” Lake said. “I care about University of Washington. That’s all I care about — and recruiting guys. That’s all I care about. I don’t care about what they’re doing.”