Spring practice has come and gone. So we’re taking a look at each team’s position groups and projecting them as being in either “Great shape,” “Good shape” or “We’ll see.” Remember that the last category isn’t necessarily bad. It means what it says ... we’ll see.
Up next are the Pac-12 North division’s defensive backs.
Stanford: The Cardinal are the only group to make any moves on this set of rankings between pre- and post-spring. Three defensive backs even landed on the “Top 10 players on Stanford depth chart” post -- Zach Hoffpauir, Alijah Holder and Quenton Meeks. Add to that a leader in Dallas Lloyd as well as talent in Terrence Alexander, Ben Edwards, Justin Reid, Alameen Murphy and Brandon Simmons and the Cardinal are looking like they’re in great shape heading into 2016. And don’t judge this group too much off its spring game performance -- the Cardinal played their top defensive linemen for only one series, meaning the pass rush was nearly nonexistent, making the secondary quite the easy target.
Washington: Remember when the Washington secondary was the eyesore of its defense? That feeling has long been in the rearview mirror and the secondary -- which had a strong season in 2015 -- is looking to be significantly better in 2016. Like Budda Baker, expect names like Sidney Jones, Kevin King and Darren Gardenhire to be household names across the Pac-12 this season as opposing fans cross their fingers that their receivers don’t have to match up against them and their quarterbacks don’t have to throw against this unit. (Congrats, Colorado and UCLA, you’re the only ones). That said, the Huskies are the early front-runner to have the strongest secondary in the entire conference.
Washington State: Defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has done great work with a unit that gave up nearly 3,600 passing yards in 2014. This spring the unit looked even tighter. Free safety Shalom Luani will provide valuable senior leadership for this group, while cornerbacks Marcellus Pippins and Darrien Molton look like they’ll be tough matchups for Pac-12 wide receivers. The best surprise of this spring for the Cougars might’ve been the emergence of early enrollee Jalen Thompson. He performed well in the spring scrimmage (four tackles, one pass breakup) and looks to be the starter at free safety.
Oregon: The Ducks’ secondary was the least consistent unit on a very inconsistent defense in 2015. But defensive backs coach John Neal is feeling confident heading into 2016 given the returning talent he has in Tyree Robinson, Chris Seisay, Ugo Amadi, Arrion Springs and Ty Griffin. Maybe the best sign of the Ducks’ belief in this group? The fact Oregon moved Charles Nelson and Dylan Kane from defensive backs to wide receivers, which is arguably the deepest position group on Oregon’s roster.
Cal: Cornerback Darius Allensworth missed most of the spring, which is both a good and a bad thing. The good part is that it opened up reps for some other younger guys. The bad part is that the Bears could’ve used him out there to help teach and lead. But the really bad news is that on top of Allensworth’s injury, the Bears also lost Damariay Drew and it’s unclear when he’ll be making his return. So when the two most experienced players coming into the spring both spend most of it on the sidelines, it leaves several questions that make this a big worry for the Bears’ defense in 2016.
Oregon State: Dwayne Williams flashed some potential in the spring game with a 59-yard pick-six (during which he also narrowly avoided being tackled by a fence), but it’s not enough to move this group up into any other category. Williams, Treston Decoud, Devin Chappell and Brandon Arnold looked to be the four best defensive backs coming out of spring practices.