By Todd Milles
The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Around the University of Washington football team, it was became a weekly action-packed flick, not game-film review.
It starred NFL-bound defensive backs Budda Baker, Sidney Jones and Kevin King.
Those three led the way for a secondary that not only ranked as one of the best in college football in 2016, but as good as the program had ever seen.
But now, cornerback Myles Bryant has a reassuring message for folks worried about the aftermath:
“There’s a push to have more production,” he said.
With all the experience in the front seven, the Huskies know that Rutgers, led by new quarterback Kyle Bolin, will likely test many of the less-known defensive backs early in the teams’ season opener Friday in New Jersey.
That group would consist of the UW’s new starting cornerback duo of Jordan Miller and Byron Murphy. Bryant will likely serve as the third cornerback, and play in nickel situations.
Behind them are junior Jomon Dotson, true freshman Elijah Molden and redshirt sophomore Austin Joyner, who has to sit out the first two games of the season for a team rules violation.
“(Rutgers offensive players) are going to think they have the upper hand with whatever receivers they have,” Bryant said. “They are going to come out and test us. Hopefully, we own up to the challenge.”
Last season, very few quarterbacks had any kind of success testing a unit led by Baker, Jones and King.
Washington was one of 16 FBS schools that allowed fewer passing touchdowns (13) than interceptions they made (19).
It ranked 15th in the country in passing yards given up per game (182.9), but was tops of any defense in yards given up per completion (9.96).
That star-studded trio only accounted for six of the team’s 19 interceptions. But those standouts showed they could get their hands on passes, accounting for 24 of the 40 passes defended.
“We learned a lot from … those three guys who left,” Bryant said. “They taught us a lot about the game, and how to play technical and know what the offense was doing before they did it.”
That certainly showed up during UW’s preseason camp.
Even with returning safety Taylor Rapp sidelined, the secondary moved around with a swagger, and talked with conviction. Bryant led all defensive backs for a second consecutive fall camp with seven interception during live scrimmages.
“It has been an extremely competitive camp,” Huskies co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said. “I do love the fact that every single day, they are all trying to one-up each other. They are trying to one-up each other on knowledge, one-up each other on interceptions and making plays on the football.
“But we have a lot of guys who haven’t played college football before. It is one thing to do it in spring football, to do it in training camp. We are all training for that day when it is for real. We’ll see what happens.”
Certainly, there has been a lot of hype surrounding Murphy, who was Arizona’s top defensive back recruit in the 2016 class. He spent much of fall camp making one highlight-reel play after another.
UW coach Chris Petersen said he’d like that attention on Murphy to simmer, at least until he plays in his first game Friday.
“Let the guy play college football before we make him All Pro,” Petersen said. “He has done a nice job, but it’s no live snaps. … It changes in the game. I’m anxious. He’s anxious. We’re all anxious to see him compete.”
The Huskies do have experience and leadership at safety with Rapp and Jojo McIntosh, who started 13 of 14 games last season.
“We have high expectations, especially after last year,” said Rapp, who led the unit with four interceptions. “Coach Lake has high expectations. He expects no dropoff.”