Shutdown secondary key to No. 4 Washington's success

SEATTLE (AP) When Budda Baker gets an opportunity to sit down and watch NFL games on Sundays, or when he takes the time to watch film of the pros he would like to emulate, it all looks very familiar.

He sees the same techniques, the same coverages being played by the professionals that he's been taught since arriving at Washington.

''Exactly to a T. We run an NFL defense,'' Baker said. ''You see certain types of techniques that those guys are doing and you see techniques that we are doing.''

Of all the position groups for No. 4 Washington, possibly none possesses the depth and NFL potential of the Huskies' secondary. Whether it's Kevin King and Sidney Jones at cornerback, or any of the combination of Baker, Jojo McIntosh, Taylor Rapp or Ezekiel Turner at safety, Washington's defensive backfield is filled with players with a possible NFL future.

It helps that Washington defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake spent five seasons coaching defensive backs in the NFL. Rather than teaching his players a style that works just in college, Lake has thrown NFL concepts at his players and made them learn.

''It's definitely been a process because you only get limited time with these guys,'' Lake said. ''But we've been here for three years now and so we've gotten to the point where these guys have played a lot of football, they hear the same thing over and over and we've been able to put more on their plate now in Year 3. First year obviously we had to do a good job of holding back all the information, but now these guys have come a long way.''

Before the season began and Washington was still being touted as a potential surprise in the Pac-12, the strength of its defensive backfield was a reason so many were high on the Huskies. There were questions elsewhere but the secondary was one area where there weren't really any concerns considering the Huskies had the best scoring defense and fourth-best pass defense in the conference in 2015.

Washington's secondary has lived up to its billing for the most part this season. The Huskies go into Friday's Pac-12 championship game against No. 9 Colorado with the top scoring defense in the conference, the No. 2 total defense and the second-best pass defense, giving up just 201 yards per game through the air.

Of course, it's Colorado that's topping the Huskies in those other two categories.

''I think they're similar (to Washington's secondary). Across the board they have good safeties, long corners, they challenge you, pressure a lot. It's very similar,'' Washington coach Chris Petersen said. ''I think there are a lot of similarities there. Even in strategy and coverage and those types of things.''

Baker is the most recognizable of the group with his standing as one of the top safeties in the country and one of the most important recruits for Washington since Petersen arrived. But Jones and King may be the ones with the biggest NFL upside. King, a senior, is listed at 6-foot-3, while Jones, a junior, is listed at 6 feet. They both have shown the skills to play press man coverage and handle their responsibilities when the Huskies drop into a zone.

The depth of Washington's secondary was so impressive that Rapp - a freshman who was a reserve early in the season before moving into a more prominent role - was named Pac-12 defensive freshman of the year Tuesday as voted on by the coaches.

''I would define us as tough, very, very competitive. I don't think there is going to be too many easy throws out there,'' King said. ''(We're) just a team that is going to fight to the end. If you beat us one play you'll have to beat us the next. That's our mentality. I think (Colorado) has that same mentality, too, so I'm pretty excited to see that matchup on both sides of the ball.''

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