By Christian Caple The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Considering how much personnel the University of Washington Huskies lost from last season’s defensive backfield, it doesn’t take a genius to assume they might be playing some freshmen there in 2014.
Especially since they signed seven of them in this year’s recruiting class.
And just in case you were still wondering, defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake comes right out and says it.
“I’ve been telling these guys, I’ve been preparing them mentally — we brought in seven and I’m thinking four or five are going to play,” Lake said after Wednesday’s practice. “Two or three are going to redshirt, and let’s go. So, get your mind right, because you’re going to play.”
So far — through four practices — so good. Of those seven freshmen defensive backs, two are already working with the second-team defense (Bellevue safety Budda Baker and cornerback Naijiel Hale), one has made noise with a one-handed interception and aggressive cover skills (Sidney Jones, a cornerback), and a couple others snagged interceptions during newcomers’ practice on the first two days (Jojo McIntosh and Darren Gardenhire).
Of course, the first few days of fall camp will always favor the defense, and that will be especially true when the offense is installing a new system under a first-year coach and trying to break in a trio of inexperienced quarterbacks vying to become the team’s starter.
As camp churns forward and the offense becomes more cohesive and efficient, there will surely be growing pains for the youngsters. But in terms of attitude and play-making ability, those DBs have had an impressive first week. And with fourth-year junior cornerback Marcus Peters representing the team’s only returning starter in the secondary, opportunity exists for the young guys to earn their way onto the depth chart.
None of them are available to speak with reporters yet, so their coaches — and their play in practice — will have to speak for them.
“I think those guys are aggressive, I think they’re competitive, and we’ve got a really good coach here to coach them up in Jimmy Lake,” coach Chris Petersen said. “And I’ll be anxious to watch their progress.”
They don’t appear intimidated. Not yet, anyway. Jones, a 6-foot, 171-pound freshman from West Covina (California) High School, made one of the best plays of camp on Wednesday, running deep in coverage near the end zone before leaping and pulling down a one-handed interception, landing just in front of the goal line.
Later, Jones blitzed quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels during an 11-on-11 period, leaped to deflect his pass — he even accidentally knocked him down in the process — and defensive lineman Greg Gaines grabbed the ball out of the air for another turnover.
“I just love the way he’s competing,” Lake said of Jones. “He’s working hard. As long as these young guys can keep that attitude through this long, grueling camp, we’re going to be OK.”
Baker, the state of Washington’s top recruit in 2014, is the most likely of that group to compete for a starting job. He’s been steady so far, and made a nice play to break up a Cyler Miles pass intended for Kendyl Taylor during Thursday’s practice.
Currently, sophomore Trevor Walker and third-year sophomore Brandon Beaver are working with the No. 1 defense at the safety position, and both of those players had strong performances in the spring.
But early indications are that Baker should see the field plenty.
“First and foremost, the guy just plays his tail off,” Lake said of Baker. “He plays so hard, so fast. … Now he’s just got to pick up a little bit, all his rules, what his techniques are, so that he can start using all that speed and agility to start making some splash plays this year.”
The Huskies will hold a closed, off-campus practice on Friday at an undisclosed site. NCAA rules prohibit schools from promoting trips to off-campus facilities, unless it’s an annual event, or, in the case of UW’s previous practices at Memorial Stadium during Husky Stadium renovations, construction necessitates relocation. … Miles, Jeff Lindquist and Troy Williams continue to share reps more or less equally at quarterback, with freshman K.J. Carta-Samuels also getting a few snaps. … Sophomore running back Dwayne Washington had what would have been an 85-yard touchdown on Thursday, linebacker Travis Feeney had two interceptions, and linebacker John Timu intercepted his third pass in two days.