Can Huskies’ defense continue to dominate? That concern is secondary this season

Washington lost three defensive backs on the Pac-12’s best defense to the NFL. How can there not be a drop off this year?

OK, so you lost cornerback Kevin King, who was the first pick in the second round of the NFL draft. But you can recover from that, right? Of course you can.

Oh, and you also lost safety Budda Baker, who was taken three picks later. But that’s all right. It’s all about the next man up, no? Yes, it is.

Except that … you also lost cornerback Sidney Jones, who went to the Eagles with the 43rd pick. And well, maybe at this point, it’s not all good. Maybe at this point, you have to ask: How can there not be a defensive drop-off at Washington next year?

This was the question I posed to coaches and players Monday as the Huskies kicked off their fall practice schedule. Remember, this is a team that has led the Pac-12 in scoring defense and total defense in each of the past two years. More specifically, it is a team that led the conference in passing defense (182.9 yards per game) and interceptions (19) last season.

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The Huskies’ D terrorized opponents just as much as the Jake Browning-led O. But can we really expect them to have the same impact on that side of the ball this year?

“I don’t know if there’s going to be a drop-off. I’m assuming that there won’t be,” UW defensive coordinator Pete Kwiatkowski said. “We have a lot of guys coming back with a lot of experience, but every year it’s a new team. It’s just the way it is.”

There a couple of angles you can take when diagnosing the losses on defense. The first is to look at the 2014 Huskies. That defense produced four of the top 44 picks in the NFL draft, yet finished just sixth in the Pac-12 in total defense.

One year later, with less individual star power, the Huskies led the Pac-12 in scoring defense and total defense. So no reason to sweat the secondary stars that went pro, right?

That’s sophomore Taylor Rapp’s mentality. Last year, the defensive back emerged as a standout for UW and walked away as the MVP of the Pac-12 Championship Game.

Rapp will tell you that secondary coach Jimmy Lake can mold just about anybody into a formidable defender, and that there’s no concern about a performance dip.

“We’re just building off of last year’s team,” Rapp said. “We always have high expectations, especially in the DB room.”

Even so —…

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