University of Washington

UW spring football preview: Defensive backs

Washington defensive back Jordan Miller started the season's first seven games before suffering a season-ending injury. His return to health will only strengthen the Huskies' secondary.
Washington defensive back Jordan Miller started the season's first seven games before suffering a season-ending injury. His return to health will only strengthen the Huskies' secondary.

In 2017, depth and experience were a concern for portions of Washington's secondary but the Huskies still finished among the best passing defenses in America.

Now those concerns are strengths as the Huskies open spring practice. UW returns every starter in their secondary; the only player missing from last year's group being Ezekiel Turner, who graduated.

UW finished 32nd in passing defense with opponents averaging 197.2 yards per game. But what made the Huskies' defensive backs so formidable was the fact they only allowed 10 passing touchdowns. Only Alabama, with eight, allowed fewer TDs through the air.

Here's a look at what to watch for with the Huskies' secondary going into spring camp.

THE BIG QUESTION IS ... ?

All eyes are going to be on senior cornerback Jordan Miller. Miller used his first two season at UW to grow into his role before transforming into a key starter for the 2017 season. Through seven games, he had 23 tackles, seven pass deflections and two interceptions.

That all changed when Miller suffered a season-ending broken ankle injury late in UW's 13-7 loss at Arizona State. Miller's absence was felt in a number of ways. Although the Huskies maintained their position as a top secondary they struggled at times against bigger receivers.

Miller, who is 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, possesses the build and physicality to challenge larger targets. Plus, losing his disruptive abilities is also added to opponents completing 65.2 percent of their passes against UW. The percentage was one of the highest in the nation as UW finished tied for 117th out of 130 Football Bowl Subdivision programs.

FAMILAR FACES

It's not your imagination. Myles Bryant, JoJo McIntosh and Taylor Rapp really have been at UW for what feels like an eternity.

Bryant, who is 5-8 and 179 pounds, is a junior cornerback who became a full-time starter last season en route to nabbing 57 tackles and nine pass deflections. The McIntosh-Rapp partnership, which has served UW well, is going into its third and final campaign. The 6-1 and 211-pound McIntosh, who is a senior had 50 tackles last year. Rapp, who is 6-feet and 202 pounds, is a junior who is coming off a career-best 59 tackles after getting 53 as a freshman.

They've combined to make 61 career starts while playing in 90 games. Bryant was a Pac-12 honorable mention member while McIntosh was a second-team selection. As for Rapp, he followed up his Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year award by becoming an All-Pac-12 first team selection.

UW's depth goes beyond those three. Players like junior Austin Joyner, sophomore Byron Murphy and senior Jomon Dotson took a step forward. Joyner has played in 25 games and picked up 40 tackles in 11 games last season. Murphy started in the first three games of the year, and after suffering an injury in practice, returned to start in the Huskies' final three games. Dotson, a former running back, made the switch to cornerback and made 13 tackles while playing in all 13 games last season.

The Huskies will enter camp with 14 defensive backs on the roster.

GOING FORWARD

Washington's options at spots like defensive line, linebacker and defensive back are so deep that's there was no pressure to draw a high number of early enrollees.

Huskies coach Chris Petersen and his coaching staff did build for the future by signing three defensive backs in their 2018 recruiting class. Cornerback Dominique Hampton (6-2, 197 pounds) was one among the earliest players to join the class. The three-star prospect grabbed eight interceptions as a senior. Kyler Gordon (5-11, 177 pounds), who starred at Everett Archbishop Murphy, was the No. 19 cornerback in the nation, per 247. The four-star prospect was the composite No. 3 player in the state of Washington. UW's final edition was four-star safety Julius Irvin. The Anaheim Servite (Calif.) star (6-1, 177 pounds) was the composite No. 12 safety in America as a senior who also showed he could drop down into coverage when needed.

UW also made another move in its secondary when adding Will Harris as the team's 10th assistant coach. Harris spent two seasons at San Jose State where he helped the Spartans become the No. 19 passing defense in America in 2016. A year later, they finished 51st nationally.

Ryan S. Clark: @ryan_s_clark
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