A position-by-position analysis of the 2015 Washington Huskies roster before national signing day on Feb. 4. Today: Secondary. Tuesday: Specialists.
2014 review: With three of four positions to fill and no obvious candidates to fill them, it was always going to be a rough transition for UW’s young secondary. That was clear from the beginning. But the story of UW’s defensive backs in 2014 — and all the drama that came with it — wound up being a defining one for the Huskies’ season overall, both good and bad. As I wrote in December, one could make a case that Jimmy Lake had the toughest coaching job in America this fall. By the fifth game, UW had already used five different starting cornerbacks. And by early November, the Huskies booted one of the most talented players on the team, Marcus Peters, which then prompted the team to pull its leading receiver, John Ross III, into full-time duty at cornerback. In addition, two regulars — cornerback Jermaine Kelly and strong safety Trevor Walker — were both lost to season-ending injuries. In the end, even without Peters, the secondary overcame some significant hurdles and some early-season struggles (hello, Vernon Adams Jr.). Four true freshmen played in the secondary, with free safety Budda Baker and Sidney Jones becoming full-time starters. Baker lived up to the hype coming out of powerhouse Bellevue High: He rarely left the field, playing more snaps than anyone on defense and special teams, and finishing fourth on the team with 80 tackles, one one-handed interception, two forced fumbles and seven passes defended. Just as important, his quiet leadership and work rate set him apart from most his age. In a season that could have gone awry, this true freshman was the steadying force for UW’s secondary.
CB — Marcus Peters, 6-0, 190
CB — Travell Dixon, 6-1, 195
CB — Jonathan Kwon, 5-10, 185
CB — Austin Joyner, 5-10, 186, Marysville-Pilchuck HS (Marysville)
CB — Jordan Miller, 6-1, 175, Oceanside HS (Oceanside, Calif.)
S — Ezekiel Turner*, 6-3, 200, Los Angeles Pierce College
S — Quinten Pounds, 6-1, 175, Cypress HS (Cypress, Calif.)
FS — Budda Baker, so., 5-10, 173
FS — Brandon Beaver, jr., 6-0, 192
SS — Kevin King, jr., 6-3, 183
SS — Trevor Walker, jr., 5-11, 186
SS — Brian Clay, sr., 6-1, 196
SS — JoJo McIntosh, r-fr., 6-0, 191
SS — Thomas Vincent, sr., 6-0, 200
CB — Sidney Jones, so., 6-0, 171
CB — Jermaine Kelly, so., 6-1, 190
CB — Darren Gardenhire, so., 5-11, 173
CB — Aaron Chapman, r-fr., 5-11, 180
CB — John Ross III, jr., 5-11, 179
CB — Naijiel Hale, so., 5-10, 171
CB — Brandon Lewis, r-fr., 5-10, 181
CB — Hayden Schuh, jr., 6-0, 193
2015 outlook: The Huskies have recruited the secondary well over the past 13 months. There’s talent here. Austin Joyner’s commitment to sign next week was another positive sign for UW’s in-state recruiting efforts and perhaps even better for the future of the secondary (assuming that’s indeed where he winds up playing). Budda Baker is locked in as the starting free safety. There’s no doubt about that. And Kevin King also solidified himself as a solid starter at strong safety in 2014, though I still wonder about his lean frame holding up consistently at that position; he’s more of a natural free safety. John Ross III’s future on defense remains a question mark. I also included him in the wide receiver outlook for 2015 because he’s said he would like to try to play both ways, in some capacity, next season. Jimmy Lake believes Ross has a future as an NFL cornerback. Ross had minor knee surgery earlier this month but is expected to participate in spring ball. Young guys like Naijiel Hale, Darren Gardenhire and Jermaine Kelly, coming back from his broken ankle, should put both Sidney Jones and Ross for playing time. Ezekiel Turner, the junior college transfer, is already on campus; he could provide immediate depth at strong safety or he does have a redshirt season available. Jordan Miller might be the most underrated recruit in this class for UW, and JoJo McIntosh and Brandon Lewis (who had two shoulder surgeries in the fall) should be in the mix, too.
*Has already signed and started classes at UW.