SEATTLE — In preparation for his third season as the Huskies’ starting free safety, Taylor Rapp this offseason studied film of Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald, two of the NFL’s most-feared defensive players.
What could Washington’s 200-pound safety learn from an outside linebacker and a defensive tackle? When it comes to hunting quarterbacks, plenty.
“Those guys play on the D-line,” Rapp said Tuesday, “but it’s still a lot of hand-action fighting and movements. I’m always trying to learn new pass-rush moves.”
The new hand-to-hand combat moves indeed came in handy Saturday in the Huskies’ 45-3 romp of North Dakota, when Rapp successfully converted two safety blitzes into two quarterback sacks. Those two sacks matched his career total from his first two seasons at UW.
“I was extremely proud of him,” co-defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake said. “He went in there and caused some havoc. And he acted like he was going to come (and didn’t) and caused some havoc anyway. It was fun to watch.”
The Huskies’ new blitzing tendencies, especially from defensive backs, is through two games the most apparent wrinkle added to the Huskies’ defensive schemes by Lake in his first season as the play-caller. The pass-rush — specifically: Where would it come from? — was the biggest question mark about this UW defense coming into the season.
Lake, it seems, is willing to take some calculated risks to create a rush, and this offseason he told his defensive backs that they should expect to spend more time in the backfield — to hunt the QB.
“The whole room was really excited,” Rapp said.
Lake also hasn’t been shy about calling a blitz for Myles Bryant, who even as a 5-foot-8, 182-pound nickelback is one of the Huskies’ best edge rushers. He had one sack against Auburn and nearly had another.
“Offenses don’t like that,” Lake said. “They’d rather have those (defensive backs) stay back there and cover and just worry about the guys with their hand in the ground. I think the more deception we can do, the more guys coming off the edge or blitzing inside, it causes the offense to work on a lot of things and now hopefully it opens up pass-rush lanes for other guys as well.”
Rapp, a preseason All-American, worked loves the added responsibility. It’s not something he could have handled two years ago when he broke in as a starting safety as a true freshman.
“It feels like I’m a whole different world than my freshman year,” he said. “My freshman year I was just getting in there and had tunnel vision on what I needed to do, because that’s all I had to do. This year, I’ve taken that step of being more aware of the whole offense’s formation and what we’re trying to do and what they’re trying to do; just being more aware of my surroundings.”
That evolution, Lake said, has afforded him to utilize Rapp in the same fashion he was able to utilize Budda Baker during his junior season in 2016. Even when he’s not going to blitz, Rapp can be equally as effective before the snap in making it look like he’s going to blitz — to “mess with the quarterback’s mind,” in his words.
“That just comes with experience,” Rapp said. “Being in my third year I’m able to mess around and throw the offense off.”