Look, I get it.
Seeing three out of five DB starters leave after one season makes anyone with a brain consider the step back that’ll occur the next time that unit steps on the field. And seeing three out of five of that group taken within the first 43 picks of the NFL Draft intensifies those concerns; not only is the remaining unit replacing three brains and bodies worth of experience, they’re replacing three brains and bodies worth of experience who were evaluated by pro football nerds as being from the top .004% of FBS scholarship players. (Also, “five” isn’t a typo — they love themselves a nickel defense over at Montlake.)
It is this situation in which Washington finds themselves. And would you believe it — a lot of people have picked up on that.
But for the love of God, Siva, Loki’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir, and everything else potentially holy or even remotely good in this world, can peeps quit it with the “But Washington loses too much from their secondary to be an elite defense this year!” narrative? Because it’s just not close to true.
We hear the “But look what they lose!” take every year about a bunch of teams. Every couple of years it even makes its way to Ohio State or Alabama, where by, like, the third game of the season, the prediction of a major decline is promptly incinerated and thrown into the Hanford nuclear waste site. Now, before some overcompensating twerp with a TEXAS IS BACK neck tattoo spends the next three days tweeting me thinking they’re so enlightened for pointing out UW isn’t on the level of these blue bloods: No kidding, son. That’s not the point.
(Side note: I’m not naive enough to expect Washington to have the same benefit of the doubt wise people have adopted in regards to Bama or tOSU’s personnel losses from year to year — honestly, the Huskies have no right to expect that attitude from people, either; for anyone east of the Rockies and south of Eugene, last year’s success may as well have been a fluke before the Pac-12 is ceded to USC for the next decade. For dudes and gals who were asleep while #Pac12AfterDark was going on, which, let’s be real, was probably most of you, this assumption about Washington’s defensive relevance is understandable and guilt-free. It is still muy false.)
The point before that disgustingly extensive side note is that the “Team X loses resource Y, therefore they’re screwed” take is thrown around so frequently because it’s easy to point to and requires almost no further digging.
Why this lukewarm take on UW’s secondary is irksome is because it fails to look at, oh, I don’t know, any of the other contributing factors to the Dawgs’ defensive and secondary success. The smarties of college football fandom have learned to stay away from those takes in regards to, again, Bama and Ohio State as well as some others to a lesser extent — Stanford and, in their own way, Wisconsin come to mind — and it comes down to us learning that these other contributing factors override whatever personnel losses occurred. For example: I’ve learned to never bet against Urban Meyer being five steps ahead of his losses. You probably have too. (Again, if your reflex is to go “But Washington isn’t Ohio State!” refer to le Disgustingly Extensive Sidenote and keep reading.)
What the “Washington loses X” camp has yet to learn — and again, it makes sense that they’ve yet to learn it with the Huskies still trying to prove they’re here to stay — is that, besides the loss of Kevin King and Sidney Jones at corner and Budda “I’ll Make You Wish You Didn’t Throw That There, Mason Rudolph” Baker, everything else stacks up in their favor and it’s not really close.
Does DB Coach Jimmy Lake’s track record, Chris Petersen’s personnel rotation, and the last three years of stellar DB recruiting mean we shouldn’t expect any growing pains from their 2017 secondary? Of course not! But if anyone familiar with these things still thinks the Washington defense will take a significant step back this season, they’re smoking one heck of a drug.
As a reminder, 2014 was the last time UW’s secondary had this much new blood. And in 2014 the Huskies’ three guys we now know to be studs were two true freshmen — one a former Army All-American and the other a low-rated three star — and an inexperienced sophomore whose most high-profile offer was from… Cal? San Diego State? The Baker, Jones, and King-led secondary wasn’t super great. And then it was.
Fast forward to 2017, Pete and Lake (which, by the way, is a buddy cop series I would absolutely watch) have the luxury of A) having actual depth in the secondary B) higher floors to work with and C) not having to start boys young enough to play a Hogwarts character in a Harry Potter remake.
Even from the 2017 signing class alone, the cornerback and safety recruits are all top 300 recruits who would likely be playing as true freshmen on a Sark-coached Washington team. Now probably none of them will be, and that’s fantastic. Meanwhile, guys from 2016, 2015, and 2014 have had a year or some to actually pick up the system, get better technique, and get more physically capable under a staff that has proven they know how to get players ready.
Many predict touted redshirt freshman Byron Murphy to start, while Jordan Miller, who was frequently filtered through the defensive backfield his first two seasons, now looks to take over as a starter as well. Myles Bryant also gave the coaches no choice but to play him last year while local guy Austin Joyner is a tremendous talent so long as he can stay healthy (a big “if,” granted). Then the Dawgs have other redshirt freshmen like Kentrell Love and Isaiah Gilchrist, both of whom came to Washington more polished than all of that 2014-2016 backfield outside of Baker. And while high school ratings aren’t everything, they’re not nothing, and none of these guys were rated lower than Sidney Jones and Kevin King other than Bryant and Miller.
Plus, the Huskies still have JoJo McIntosh, Zeke Turner, and Taylor Rapp hitting receivers like they don’t want to live. If nothing else, that’ll still be fun to watch.
This whole thing isn’t saying Washington’s secondary won’t have any learning curve. At least a bit of one is all but inevitable and anyone claiming otherwise is probably just a delusional homer. But there’s a difference between acknowledging the break-in period for younger players when their predecessors depart and assuming that since the Huskies lost some stars to the NFL, their defense must be, in 2017 at least, screwed.
(I could spend some more time on the rest of the defense and how they’ll further alleviate the defensive backfield’s growing pains, but this thing’s already over 1000 words and you’re probably late for work.)
Sidney Jones, Kevin King, and Budda Baker were freaking rad dudes. And they were just holding down the fort.
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