Reassuring outlook for Washington Football Team defense in 2018

SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 25: Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven
SEATTLE, WA - NOVEMBER 25: Linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven /

The Washington Football team defense has high hopes for the 2018 season. Despite any year of defections to the NFL, the team has a solid core of returning talent plus solid new prospects

The Washington Football team has high hopes in 2018, and that starts on the defensive side of the football. And rightfully so. They lost a bunch of impact players to the NFL Draft, including Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year Vita Vea. To go along with that, four year starter and emotional leader Keishawn Bierria has also moved on to the NFL. But the Huskies shouldn’t miss a beat in 2018, returners will step up and new faces will step in.

The team’s style of play has continued to lean heavily on the defensive side of the ball. As such, this team has not found itself in many shootouts. On those rare occasions where hte defense did not outmuscle their opponents, the Huskies struggled to win games. So it’s paramout to the teams hopes that the defense finds its way back to dominating football. With the currrent roster, that should not be a huge problem.

Returning Stars

Let’s start with the returners, and Greg Gaines. Gaines has been an impact player since the second he stepped on the field, but he has been overshadowed. Playing next to Elijah Qualls and Vita Vea makes it tough to stand out. This year, Gaines will be able to shine in his own right, which will open up opportunities for returning pass rushers. Benning Potoa’e and Ryan Bowman are going to have much bigger impacts this year. Bowman was last year’s biggest surprise, recording 5.5 sacks and a forced fumble while starting only three games. He has looked great this spring, and I would expect him to take his game to the next level this season.

With Gaines becoming number one on the depth chart, look for Jaylen Johnson to make a name for himself. Johnson has been exceptional this spring, and has even earned Dawg of the Day honors from Chris Petersen. Johnson has had a tough time making a name for himself because of some of the huge names in front of him. If you want to see what kind of potential he has, go back and watch the Peach Bowl film. Johnson looked like he belonged there, and had an incredible game while seeing limited snaps.

Line up the linebackers

At the next level, Ben Burr Kirven will look different but play the same way. He cut his hair, but that won’t impact his tackling. He led the team last year with 84 tackles, which was far and away the best on the team. Taking over as the number one inside linebacker for his senior year is an exciting sight for this Husky team. No matter who plays next to him, they can rest easy knowing that Burr Kirven is there to clean up the mess.

One thing to keep an eye on at linebacker is Tevis Bartlett’s move to inside backer. He has spent the past three years as an outside backer, so the move inside will be something to keep an eye on. The UW coaching staff loves the hard nosed mentality that Bartlett plays with, and they believe the transition will be easy for him. He might just be a place-holder though, while 5 star recruit Ale Kaho and highly touted Brandon Wellington develop.

Second to none secondary

The secondary will be the strength of this team, returning every starter from last season.  Safety Taylor Rapp is arguably the best safety in the country, and there is an argument to be made for Byron Murphy at corner too. All the experience in the secondary will work in the Huskies favor early in the season, as the front seven might experience some growing pains early on.

Another key name to keep an eye on in the secondary is cornerback Keith Taylor.  So far, the 6-foot-2 corner has been taking reps with the first team. Defensive back Myles Bryant excelled at nickel back last season, but watch for Taylor in dime and sub packages.

New Faces

As there always is with college football, watch for the new faces. On the D-line, keep an eye on Josiah Bronson. He had to sit out last season because of NCAA transfer rules, but should see some action this season. Pete Kwiatkowski and Jimmy Lake should design some sub packages for Bronson and Levi Onwuzurike to make an impact.

We already highlighted Ale Kaho, but he’s worth being highlighted again. The 5 star recruit will be the biggest story of summer camp, assuming his shoulder is recovered from the minor procedure he underwent in December. If he’s ready to play, this coaching staff has shown before they have no problem playing freshmen.

Next: Washington Football program recruits DL Sama Paama

In the secondary, watch out for Julius Irvin. Kyler Gordon is the headline name in the secondary recruiting class, but Irvin might be the first person to play. Irvin is a 4-star safety who could assume the role that Ezekiel Turner played last season. He would be the sort of safety-linebacker hybrid that is all the rage on defenses today.

At the end of the day, expect nothing but success from this group. They have one of the most talented groups of players and coaches in the country, and that will pay off this season in hopefully another birth in the College Football Playoff.