There was a high standard set by the Huskies’ defensive backs when Jordan Miller arrived at Washington three years ago.
Miller says first-year defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake — who in his fifth year overall with the program has developed UW’s secondary into one of the best in the nation — is a big reason for that.
And the guys who came before Miller, like Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King — now all on NFL rosters — set a high bar. Miller, now a senior, looked up to those players. He absorbed what they had to teach. Now, he’s passing it on.
“It’s a culture we created in our room,” he said Friday after the Huskies wrapped up their seventh preseason practice of the season.
“You want to go out and have the best practice you’ve ever had every day,” Miller continued. “If you can go and do that, come game time, who can beat us? That’s how we look at things.”
The competitive culture the UW secondary has formed is well-known throughout the Pac-12 — the Huskies allowed just five passing touchdowns in conference play last season — and is continuing to gain national attention.
The defensive backs were on full display again Friday afternoon, when the turnover horn blew five times in less than two hours. The secondary pulled down four of the five interceptions during team periods.
Freshman Julius Irvin led with two interceptions off of quarterback Jacob Sirmon, a freshman out of Bothell High School. On both picks, Irvin snagged deep passes out of the air.
Former Sehome standout Taylor Rapp picked off quarterback Jake Browning during the second team period to end a drive. He came swooping in to steal the ball as Miller had Quinten Pounds wrapped up in man coverage.
Later, a play after Myles Bryant nearly picked off Browning in the end zone, Byron Murphy came down with an interception to stall the Huskies offense in the red zone. Browning was looking for Chico McClatcher in traffic, and Murphy made the easy grab.
Linebacker Jake Wambaugh had the fourth pick of the day on an attempted pass over the middle by Jake Haener before Irvin made his second interception on the following drive.
There were several more near-interceptions during the afternoon, and a handful of passes defensed.
Everyone, including freshman like Irvin, Dominique Hampton and Archbishop Murphy product Kyler Gordon are making an impact early on, Rapp said.
“I think for freshman, right when they’re thrown in the room they’re held to the same standards as everyone in the room,” Rapp said. “That’s difficult, but that’s why our room is so great, and that’s why our room can be so great. We hold everyone to the same standards.”
And the standard just keeps growing. Coach Chris Peterson said the Huskies have recruited well in that group, and have a good situation going.
More recognizable names like Elijah Molden, who has three interceptions so far in camp, Austin Joyner and JoJo McIntosh are also back this year.
“We’ve had some good players come in. We play so many,” Petersen said. “We play five, that’s like playing offensive line.
“And it’s different than offensive line because with offensive line you play five guys, and those guys have to have a rhythm together. You don’t need that in the secondary.”
But there certainly is an established rhythm in this secondary, no matter who steps on the field on any given play. Miller says no on in the DB room can relax, because they’re constantly competing with each other.
“The way we compete, it’s always going to be like everyone is competing for a starting spot, and everyone is pushing each other, and that’s how we all get better,” Miller said.
“No one can relax in our room. ... We all just push each other to be better, and that’s why our room has gotten as good as it is.”
And, the way Miller sees it, it’s only getting deeper and better.
“Looking at how camp is going, I think we’re taking a lot of steps forward,” he said.
Good start by ex-Lakes star
Petersen said he’s pleased with how Lakes High School product Benning Potoa’e has opened camp. Potoa’e, now a junior, played in all 13 games — starting 10 — at outside linebacker in 2017 for the Huskies, compiling 27 tackles.
“He’s played hard,” Petersen said. “He’s very focused. I’ve seen him take a step in these seven practices. We’ll see what happens the next seven practices, but he’s got off to a good start.”
Potoa’e was one of four players to sack Browning during team periods Friday, resulting in about a 6-yard loss. Greg Gaines got to Browning in the backfield during the third team period, while Joe Tyron and Zion Tupuola-Fetui dropped Browning on back-to-back plays to end a drive in a later period after the team moved into the stadium.
The Huskies offense converted two touchdowns during Friday’s practice, despite being overshadowed by the five interceptions. The first score came on a 29-yard pass to the right corner of the end zone from redshirt freshman Jake Haener to sophomore Ty Jones. Jones leaped over Molden to make the grab. Senior tailback Myles Gaskin scored the second touchdown on a 2-yard run to end the final team period of the evening. He capped a 71-yard drive that also included an 11-yard scamper by Browning to convert on fourth down. ... The kicking competition continues to play out with Capital High School product Van Soderberg and freshman Peyton Henry getting most of the reps. Soderberg was 3-of-6 on his attempts Friday, while Henry was 4-of-7. Soderberg, Henry and punter Race Porter each worked on kickoffs during a special teams period, while Gaskin, Andre Baccellia and Pounds acted as returners. ... Former UW quarterback Jake Locker, sporting a retro Huskies T-shirt, jeans and cowboy boots, appeared at practice during the first half hour.