Taylor Rapp has already announced he will skip his senior season, and the Huskies could lose up to 10 regular starters from the Pac-12's No. 1 defense.
Washington’s defense looked unrecognizable in the first half of Tuesday’s Rose Bowl loss to Ohio State.
For different reasons, it will have a decidedly new look in 2019.
All-American safety Taylor Rapp on Wednesday morning announced plans to skip his senior season and declare for the NFL draft, and fellow defensive backs Byron Murphy and Myles Bryant are known to be mulling whether to do the same.
Murphy, as a third-year sophomore, is eligible to enter the 2019 draft, and he received a second-round grade from the NFL College Advisory Committee. Bryant, at 5-feet-8, isn’t the archetype for an NFL defensive back, but he’s a sure tackler — as good as the Huskies have — who could benefit from the rising popularity of nickelbacks in the NFL.
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If they do follow Rapp out the door, the Huskies would lose 10 regular starters from a unit that ranked as the Pac-12’s No. 1 scoring defense for the fourth year in a row.
The defensive line graduates three seniors who had a combined 33 starts this season: Greg Gaines, Shane Bowman and Jaylen Johnson.
At linebacker, Ben Burr-Kirven and Tevis Bartlett are graduating, and the secondary graduates cornerback Jordan Miller and safety JoJo McIntosh.
The good news is the Huskies have recruited well on defense in recent classes — particularly in the secondary and at defensive tackle — and the standards for Washington’s defense won’t change going into UW’s 2019 season opener against Eastern Washington.
“I’m not worried about anything,” Miller said, looking ahead to the 2019 defense. “Kyler, Dom, Julius, Elijah, KT — all of them are ballers. All of them are going to have all the accolades. I’m excited for all of them.”
Senior QB Jake Browning has practiced against future NFL defensive players throughout his UW career, and he said the up-and-coming defensive backs are “NFL guys too.”
Notably, there’s juniors-to-be Keith Taylor, Elijah Molden and Brandon McKinney, who made his first career start against Ohio State in the Rose Bowl in Rapp’s place. And then there’s the young defensive backs who redshirted in 2018: Kyler Gordon, Dom Hampton and Julius Irvin.
The Huskies had a similar mass exodus of NFL talent after the 2014 season — with Danny Shelton, Hau’oli Kikaha, John Timu, Shaq Thompson and Marcus Peters all moving on to the pros — and expectations were modest going into the next season.
The results in 2015 far exceeded those as the Huskies led the Pac-12 in scoring defense that year at 18.8 points per game. The veteran defense led the Pac-12 again this season at 16.4 points per game.
“We like to say taking the flag. So guys will always leave every year, but the next guy is always ready,” McIntosh said. “We’ve got some freshmen right now that could play today if they wanted. We always got guys. Coach (Jimmy) Lake does a good job of recruiting good guys that are ready to play. I think we do a really good job of just filling in.”
Ohio State needed just 2 minutes, 2 seconds to march 80 yards to take a 28-3 lead on its first possession of the third quarter Tuesday, and the Rose Bowl appeared headed toward runaway-train territory.
Then the Huskies defense settled in.
Playing without Rapp (hip), the Huskies allowed three passing touchdowns to Dwayne Haskins and the Buckeyes, the most a UW defense has surrendered since Eastern Washington’s Vernon Adams threw seven in September 2014, Chris Petersen’s second game as UW’s coach.
But after Ohio State’s third-quarter touchdown, the Huskies allowed only one first down and 17 yards combined in the Buckeyes’ next five series, forcing a punt each time.
The nation’s second-ranked offense coming into the game, Ohio State finished with 364 total yards — 272 of those in the first half — its second fewest in any game this season.
“We just started playing the way we always play. That’s all there really is to it,” said Burr-Kirven, the Huskies’ All-American middle linebacker. “We didn’t change any of the calls we were making. Didn’t change any of that. We just started making plays and guys started playing the way they were capable of. You saw the little things that were getting by us in the first half stopped happening.”