Washington has had the Pac-12's top overall and scoring defense the last three seasons. And the Huskies will return nine starters from their Fiesta Bowl loss.

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For three consecutive seasons, the Huskies have had the Pac-12’s top overall defense (yards allowed) and top scoring defense (points allowed). The good news for 2018 is the Huskies are set to return nine defensive starters from the Fiesta Bowl, including all five starters from what will be another stacked secondary.

Here is a projected depth chart and analysis of the 2018 UW defense. (If you missed it, here is a look at the offense from Wednesday.)

DEFENSIVE LINE

Who’s back

Defensive end
Jaylen Johnson, sr., 6-3, 298
Benning Potoa’e, jr., 6-3, 278
Jason Scrempos, jr., 6-6, 283
Jarryn Bush, so., 6-2, 230*

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Nose tackle
Greg Gaines, sr., 6-2, 322
Shane Bowman, sr., 6-4, 303

Defensive tackle
Levi Onwuzurike, so., 6-3, 290
Jared Pulu, jr., 6-4, 278*
Josiah Bronson, jr., 6-5, 265*

Who’s out
Vita Vea, graduated
Ricky McCoy, transferring

Who’s new
Draco Bynum, fr., 6-4, 258
Mosiah Nasili-Liu, fr., 6-2, 281
Sam Taimani, fr., 6-2, 320

*denotes walk-on

Outlook: The departure of Vita Vea, the Pac-12 defensive player of the year, is no small loss. But the return of Greg Gaines for his senior season is significant. After an injury-riddled junior season — he played through a PCL tear since late October — he ought to be one of the league’s best and most experienced interior lineman in 2018. Jaylen Johnson and Benning Potoa’e also bring experience and versatility, and Levi Onwuzurike (3.5 tackles for loss as a reserve in 2017) is an emerging star. The D-line was a priority in this recruiting cycle, and UW did well in landing Draco Bynum, Mosiah Nasili-Liu and Sam Taimani. Too early to say if any one of those incoming freshmen will be able to contribute next fall, but overall the Huskies appear to be in good shape up front next fall.

LINEBACKERS

Who’s back

Outside
Tevis Bartlett, sr., 6-2, 234
Myles Rice, so., 6-3, 240
Amandre Williams, so., 6-2, 225
Ariel Ngata, rs-fr., 6-2, 208

Inside
Ben Burr-Kirven, sr., 6-0, 222
Matt Preston, sr., 6-2, 237*
Jake Wambaugh, sr., 6-1, 221*

Inside
DJ Beavers, jr., 6-0, 230
Brandon Wellington, jr., 5-11, 223
Kyler Manu, jr., 6-1, 240

Outside
Ryan Bowman, so., 6-0, 262
Jusstis Warren, jr., 6-2, 252
Camilo Eifler, so., 6-1, 223
Joe Tryon, rs-fr., 6-4, 251

Who’s out
Keishawn Bierria, graduated
Connor O’Brien, graduated
Azeem Victor, graduated

Who’s new
Ale Kaho, fr., 6-1, 218
Jackson SIrmon, fr., 6-2, 224
MJ Tafisi, fr., 6-2, 224
Zion Tupuola-Fetui, fr., 6-2, 250

Outlook: Keishawn Bierria has been the heart and soul of the defense the past three seasons, and his graduation leaves a big void in and out of the locker room. Tevis Bartlett and Ben Burr-Kirven had breakthrough junior seasons in 2017. Bartlett led the team with 12.0 tackles for loss and Burr-Kirven led the team with 84 total tackles. They’ll be back as the new leaders of the linebackers. Walk-on Ryan Bowman was a revelation this past fall, leading the team with 5.5 sacks as a redshirt freshman. DJ Beavers and Brandon Wellington should both be major contributors next fall. Questions remain about the quality of depth at outside linebacker — it’s probably the most pressing question on the entire defense. Look for Camilo Eifler to make the shift outside. He was a special-teams stalwart in 2017, but he still has a ways to go for his vast physical talent to turn into consistent production. There’s a strong crop of incoming freshmen here, headlined by Ale Kaho out of Reno, Nev. Would expect a couple of those freshmen to have a chance to contribute right away.

SECONDARY

Who’s back

Cornerback
Byron Murphy, so., 5-11, 175
Keith Taylor, so., 6-2, 186
Jomon Dotson, sr., 5-10, 181
Sean Vergara, sr., 6-2, 183*

Cornerback
Austin Joyner, jr., 5-10, 182
Jordan Miller, sr., 6-1, 184
Zechariah Brown, so., 5-10, 184*

Nickelback
Myles Bryant, jr., 5-8, 180
Elijah Molden, so., 5-10, 186

Safety
Taylor Rapp, jr., 6-0, 212
Isaiah Gilchrist, so., 5-10, 203

Safety
JoJo McIntosh, sr., 6-1, 219
Brandon McKinney, so., 6-0, 191

Who’s out
Ezekiel Turner, graduated
Kentrell Love, transferring
Mason Stone, graduated

Who’s new
Kyler Gordon, fr., 5-11, 177
Dominique Hampton, fr., 6-2, 197

Outlook: The secondary once again appears to be the deepest and most talented position on the roster — and it’s getting even better and even deeper. Jimmy Lake has signed two defensive backs (Kyler Gordon and Dominique Hampton) already in the class, and the Huskies are after another highly regarded one in Julius Irvin (Anaheim, Calif.) for the regular early February signing day. Those freshmen join a secondary that returns all five starters — and a sixth, Jordan Miller, is on track to make a full recovery from an October broken ankle. The competition will be fierce between Miller and Austin Joyner for one cornerback job. On the other side, Byron Murphy has all the tools to be one of UW’s all-time great cornerbacks (how about that interception in the Fiesta Bowl). Myles Bryant was excellent in his first season as the nickelback, and Taylor Rapp and JoJo McIntosh enter their third season together as the starting safeties. Sophomores Elijah Molden, Keith Taylor and Brandon McKinney could be ready for expanded roles, but the question is when and where will their opportunities come?

SPECIAL TEAMS

Who’s back

Kicker
Van Soderberg, so., 6-0, 197
Peyton Henry, rs-fr., 5-10, 189*
Sebastian Valerio, jr., 5-9, 179*

Punter
Joel Whitford, jr., 6-3, 224
Race Porter, so., 6-1, 178*

Snapper
A.J. Carty, jr., 6-2, 243
Luke Lane, so., 5-11, 215*

Who’s out
Tristan Vizcaino, graduated

Outlook: The punting game is in good shape. Joel Whitford did fine in his first season as the Huskies’ new Aussie Rules punter. The big question here, of course, is the kicking game. Tristan Vizcaino finally settled down in November, kicking the game-winner against Utah and making both of his kicks in the Apple Cup. Now the Huskies start all over again. Van Soderberg connected on the first field goal of his career vs. Cal, but wasn’t heard from after Arizona State. He figures to get pushed by the two walk-on kickers, Peyton Henry and Sebastian Valerio. And perhaps the Huskies make a move this offseason (JC route? Another walk-on?) to bring in a fourth option to add competition.

Dante Pettis, the NCAA record-holder in punt-return touchdowns, is graduating, but Aaron Fuller is a capable returner, and Byron Murphy could be a viable option there too. Salvon Ahmed was the primary kick returner most of last season and figures to stick in that role next fall.

Based on what we know at the moment, the Huskies right now have 41 scholarships committed on defense and 84 in total, putting just one under the NCAA-mandated scholarship limit. There will probably be a couple more guys leaving the program this offseason who haven’t yet announced so publicly. And there’s a chance UW could add a couple more bodies during the February signing day, though coaches would be content if the 19 they signed in December are all they end up with.