The secondary could be seen as one of the top reasons for Washington Huskies’ success last season.
The Huskies had one of the best pass defenses in the country in 2016. Washington was No. 15 in passing yards allowed per game in the country at 182.9 and was No. 8 in the nation in total interceptions at 19 including two returned for touchdowns last year.
Washington’s secondary was led by safety Budda Baker and cornerback Sidney Jones in 2016. However, both Baker and Jones along with other starting corner Kevin King, have departed for the NFL. The holes they leave behind are gaping.
Baker recorded 70 tackles—9.5 for loss—and three sacks along with two interceptions. Now, Jones totaled 39 tackles—2.5 for loss, two interceptions and six passes defended while King tallied 44 tackles—3.5 for loss, two interceptions and 13 passes defended. Jones was also seen as the most pro ready corner in all of college football.
While losing all three players is significantly damaging to the Huskies’ defense, Washington’s secondary still has some talented playmakers entering the 2017 season.
Safety Taylor Rapp opened the season as the backup free safety against Rutgers. But two games later, against Portland State, Rapp was named a starter and never relinquished that spot. After that, Rapp produced a stellar freshman season in Seattle.
Rapp recorded 51 tackles last season. The biggest statistic, however, was the number of interceptions he had. The 6-foot free safety led the Huskies with four interceptions in 2016.
Probably the most memorable game for Rapp last year was the Pac-12 Championship against the Colorado Buffaloes. Rapp had two interceptions in the span of 76 seconds—he returned the first one for a 35-yard touchdown.
#Huskies: PICK-SIX! ☔️☔️☔️ Taylor Rapp to the house! #PurpleReign Watch the second half of… https://t.co/z7BesvfnTt https://t.co/5GzxK6uyxl— Washington Huskies (@huskiesdispatch) December 3, 2016
“He’s a really good tackler, plays hard,” said Washington head coach Chris Petersen to the Seattle Times back in Sept. of 2016 about Rapp. “It’s all about characteristics that when you boil it down, you want a smart player that’s physical, that’s a good tackler, that just has a really high football IQ.”
Rapp’s two interception performance against Colorado helped him earn the Pac-12 Title game’s Defensive Player of the Game award, but that wasn’t the only accolade Rapp earned in 2016. He was the Pac-12 Freshman Defensive Player of the Year and a Freshman All-American last year as well.
While Rapp will be seen as the face of Washington’s secondary in 2017, the Huskies also returns fellow safety, JoJo McIntosh.
McIntosh, who stands at 6-foot-1 and weighs 209 pounds, is seen as one of the hardest hitting players in college football.
“He just likes contact,” Washington co-defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said to ESPN about McIntosh. “He’s a physical player who likes that part of the game. It’s a mentality that he has had through high school and since he has been here.”
Having a tackler like McIntosh in the secondary should make opposing wide receivers wary competing against the Washington defensive backs.
While the safety position seems to be set-in-stone for the Huskies, the cornerback spot remains intriguing.
There is depth at the cornerback position with young talent—Ezekiel Turner, Jordan Miller and Austin Joyner—who have experience. Running back Jomon Dotson also moved to corner, and an incoming pair of 4-star recruits according to 247Sports, Elijah Molden and Keith Taylor, could push their way into the mix as well.
One knows the Huskies’ 2016 secondary was an elite group when Alabama head coach Nick Saban called it “Seattle Seahawk-like.”
Washington's secondary was lethal pic.twitter.com/VykZU7ruPj— Football Players (@FootballPIayers) March 14, 2017
The Washington defense should and still looks like it will be sturdy in 2017. However, with the losses it sustained in the secondary, it’s backfield may not be Seahawk-like this upcoming season. However, with the talent and potential capability out of the less experienced and incoming athletes, the Huskies’ secondary should still be formidable in 2017.