University of Washington

3 things we learned from UW Huskies’ spring preview

UW DB Brandon McKinney talks after spring game

Washington defensive back Brandon McKinney speaks to the media after Saturday's spring preview.
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Washington defensive back Brandon McKinney speaks to the media after Saturday's spring preview.

Washington capped a month of practice with Saturday’s spring preview at Husky Stadium.

With spring practice now in the books, here are three things we learned about the Huskies.

Secondary, reloaded

UW lost both its starting cornerbacks and safeties from last season. Three of those players were drafted and the other signed as an undrafted free agent. But ask this year’s defensive backs and they’ll tell you the Huskies aren’t rebuilding, they’re reloading.

There was certainly plenty of evidence for that on Saturday.

Cornerback Keith Taylor has yet to record an interception in Husky career, but he took home the ‘Best Hands’ trophy for the spring after finishing with seven picks. He was one of the standouts this month and defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake has high expectations for him this season.

“To his credit, he didn’t come here having great hands,” Lake said. “He’s done a lot of ball drills with Coach (Will) Harris, myself, after practice on the jugs machine. If you go way back to his true freshman year against Rutgers, he was in position and let the ball go over his head. He’s come a long way since those days.

“He made a lot of plays on the football last year in his starts and when he came in on third down. So now, for him to have the most interceptions of anybody in the room he’s just got to carry that over into the season and I’m very confident that he will.”

Isaiah Gilchrist had two interceptions during the scrimmage period of the spring preview, including one he returned 40 yards for touchdown. Safety Brandon McKinney also had one during the 7-on-7 portion. Gilchrist, Elijah Molden, Dom Hampton and Kyler Gordon each had a pass breakup.

“We never have a drop-off,” Gilchrist said. “We’re always next man up. A lot of people here have played, even last year. We’re not feeling any kind of drop-off this year.”

McKinney, who made his first-career start in place of Taylor Rapp in last year’s Rose Bowl, said he still has more work to do before fall camp. He spent much of spring working with the first-team defense at safety.

“I feel like my game’s been improving,” he said. “Still got to work on my speed, I feel like, and change of direction. I feel good. I’m proud of my guys. We came out and finished hard. I’m just proud of them.”

Several defensive backs, including Gilchrist and Bryant, have played multiple positions throughout the month. Lake said that’s something he plans to continue into fall.

“We’re going to continue to move guys around, bounce them from corner to nickel to safety,” Lake said. “All over the place. You’ll see guys doing different stuff. When you see a certain guys starting in a game next fall in Game 6 or Game 7, you shouldn’t be surprised because you saw him in spring football and in training camp.”

Young players shine

Two early enrollee freshman have particularly impressed UW’s coaches this spring: Safety Cameron Williams and inside linebacker Josh Calvert.

Head coach Chris Petersen has heaped praise on Williams, praising his mindset and work ethic. Williams started at safety during the Huskies’ last two open practices and he was there alongside Bryant again during the spring preview.

Calvert had a strong performance during Saturday’s scrimmage period, finishing with a seven tackles, a half tackle for loss and a pass breakup. But he wasn’t the only young defensive player that impressed. Redshirt freshman linebackers MJ Tafisi and Edefuan Ulofoshio also had seven tackles. Redshirt freshman Kyler Gordon, who has spent most of the spring starting at cornerback alongside Taylor, was there again on Saturday.

There were standouts on the other side of the ball, too.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Marquis Spiker was a reliable target for the quarterbacks, finishing with a team-high six receptions for 47 yards. He’s been solid all spring and sprinkled in a few highlight-reel catches. Fellow redshirt freshman Austin Osborne had six receptions for 37 yards on Saturday.

Offense needs time

It was a common sight for the defense to come out on top during team periods this spring. That was again the case during the scrimmage on Saturday. But as Gilchrist pointed on, the defense is often ahead at the offense during spring and early in the fall.

“The offense, they’ll come around,” Gilchrist said. “They always do.”

Fans who came out to see Jacob Eason watched the former five-star recruit complete 7-of-12 passes for a modest 42 yards. But Eason ended the day on a high note when he scrambled to his right and completed a 17-yard pass to Kamari Pleasant for a touchdown. Pleasant made a tough catch on the play and finished with a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown.

Salvon Ahmed didn’t have a huge day but he had a strong showing on one of the final drives of the day. His speed and shiftiness were on display as he darted through holes to move UW into the red zone. He then scored the first offensive touchdown on a 5-yard run up the middle.

Jacob Kizer was the only tight end to make a catch on Saturday — he had two receptions for 14 yards – but after the practice, Hunter Bryant talked highly about the talent in the room.

“We always had good players in there, just big players who can run fast and jump high and catch the ball and do everything,” he said. “That’s what I love about our room. We got to know all the run calls, all the pass calls, pass protection and then all the route trees, all the route concepts, everything.”

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