University of Washington

With one eye on UCLA, UW keeps focus on its young options at cornerback

UW linebacker Tevis Bartlett on UCLA QB Josh Rosen, forcing turnovers

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Generally speaking, the Washington Huskies do have options at cornerback. As to who they are, nobody is saying anything. At least, not yet.

UW’s sports information department will likely release its two-deep depth chart at some point this week. A few names will be listed. Even then, quite a bit could change leading up to Saturday when the banged-up Huskies (6-1, 3-1 Pac-12) will host UCLA (4-3, 2-2) at 12:30 pm. Saturday at Husky Stadium.

“The biggest thing is everybody came here for games like this and playing Pac-12 games,” Huskies defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said Tuesday morning. “Someone goes down, as a bummer as it is, the next guy has to grab that flag and carry it. Whether it’s DB’s or any position on the team, that’s why we have depth and trying to get that through to the guys that every [practice] rep matters in your development to get better.”

Refining its depth at cornerback has become a priority in recent weeks. UW lost junior cornerback Jordan Miller for the year with a broken left ankle he suffered Oct. 14 in a 13-7 defeat at Arizona State.

Miller’s loss was crippling for a few reasons. For one, he overcame a sluggish start and was emerging. He had two interceptions against Colorado and was leading the Huskies with five pass breakups. Furthermore, his 34 games over three seasons made him one of the defense’s most experienced players.

Kwiatkowski and defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake used UW’s bye last week and the days leading up to UCLA to develop a suitable replacement.

“It’s looking at how they execute,” Kwiatkowski said about evaluating players. “Do they know what they are doing? Are they executing what they are supposed to be doing? That’s the bottom line.

“The other thing you look at is are they playing physical, playing hard?”

Kwiatkowski, as one would expect, was not offering any specifics regarding who’s likely to start Saturday.

His options include sophomore Myles Bryant and redshirt sophomore Austin Joyner.

Bryant, who was rated by Rivals as a three-star prospect, featured in 11 games in 2016 but only recorded five tackles in a bit role. As a sophomore, he’s been one of the more active figures throughout the defense.

He’s second on the team with 35 tackles and is also second with four pass breakups. Bryant also has one interception and four tackles for loss.

Joyner, a four-star recruit, was rated by Rivals as the nation’s No. 9 cornerback in 2015. He saw action in two games in 2015 and played in 12 games last season.

Though his experience lends itself to 14 games, he’s taken on a larger role this season. Joyner has 20 tackles in five games.

He’s also shown flashes this season of being a player on the verge. Joyner recorded six tackles in consecutive games against Fresno State and Colorado. Against Arizona State, he had three tackles and a sack.

Beyond Bryant and Joyner, it gets murkier.

Redshirt freshman Byron Murphy was one of the team’s stars during fall camp. He’s been out for more than a month with a leg injury he picked up in practice.

Murphy was on the sidelines for the Arizona State loss. It’s too early to say if he’ll be available for Saturday.

Another player who could receive some consideration is junior Jomon Dotson. The running back-turned-defensive back has played in all seven games. His most notable contribution came when he had a 68-yard interception for a touchdown in a blowout win over Montana.

“Everybody has to their job,” Dotson said about defending UCLA. “I say, it comes down to everyone having their edge and everybody coming out there jobs and have everything right.”

Ranked 15th against the pass last season, the Huskies are sixth in 2017. They’ve allowed 163.9 yards yet come Saturday, they’ll face a few tests.

One challenge is finding comfort with newer, younger cornerbacks. Another task will be slowing Bruins quarterback Josh Rosen, who is at the controls of one of the nation’s most prolific attacks.

Rosen, a junior, has thrown for 2,620 yards and 19 touchdowns. He’s also completed 63.5 percent of his passes.

UCLA is third in the nation in passing offense at 380.6 yards. The Bruins, however, do have eight interceptions which ranks 94th.

“For a DB’s standpoint, if it’s (playing) tight coverage, play tight coverage. If it’s zone, play your zone,” Kwiatkowski said. “Play with great eyes, tackle the football. ... From a unit perspective, we gotta pressure the quarterback.”

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark