Experienced sophomores will bolster Washington Huskies pass defense


When Washington defensive back scoach Jimmy Lake got to Seattle he knew his job would be tough. He was a DBs coach without any DBs on scholarship.

“We had to see which holes we had to patch up,” Lake said. “That was obviously a really big one.”

Big might be an understatement.

No strong safeties on scholarship would be a big hole. Only four scholarship defensive backs would be a big hole. To look at a roster and not see a single scholarship player on more than a third of the roster was a crater-sized hole.

But the coaches knew the first part of filling that gaping hole on defense was local prospect Budda Baker.

“That was our No. 1 target when we first arrived,” Lake said. “He was the best talent in the state, if not the whole Northwest at any position.”

Baker came along and the rest of the class filled up. In total, the Huskies signed seven defensive backs in their 2014 class. During the 2014 season, four would play and two would become regular starters.

For the most part, the youth and inexperience showed. Washington had the third-worst pass defense in the Pac-12 last season, allowing 286.6 passing yards per game. While their front seven was nasty, their secondary was porous -- that hole that Lake had talked about was seen and attacked by nearly every offensive coordinator in the league.

“It was definitely a lot of work -- a lot of tests, a lot of extra walk-throughs, a lot of extra meetings up in my office and kind of just trial by fire,” Lake said. “It was definitely a challenge.”

But a year later, Lake and his players -- young veterans as he calls them -- are grateful for that challenge. Their year of trial by fire has produced a group that’s ready to be the foundation and bright spot of the Huskies’ defense in 2015.

Baker has his spot locked up as does fellow sophomore Sidney Jones. Jones will start at cornerback opposite Darren Gardenhire (another 2014 signee) or Kevin King. The strong safety spot is an open competition right now and possibly the only position in the secondary that could see consistent play from a fourth- or fifth-year player.

Brian Clay, Brandon Beaver, JoJo McIntosh (2014 signee) and Ezekiel Turner will all duke it out for that final spot in the secondary.

“We have some options at that position,” Lake said.

It’s something Lake wouldn’t have said a season ago. But now, the Huskies do have options and though they’re not really veterans in the typical sense most think of that word, they’ve played a lot. And Lake wouldn’t trade his young veterans for another secondary.

The Huskies don’t expect to jump from the 10th spot in pass defense to the first spot in just one season, but they expect to climb. Little by little they’ve filled the hole that was left in the secondary, and they’re hoping that most only see a divot this year when they look in the defensive backfield.

“We’re relatively young but at least they do have some game experience,” Lake said. “Now, going through this training camp they’ve heard all the coaching points, they’ve heard the techniques, and now it’s a lot of refreshers as opposed to completely brand new. So we’ve really had a good training camp.”