We’re in the final stretches of our position group breakdowns. Today, we look at North defensive backs.
Washington: The Huskies might have the best secondary in the entire conference. Budda Baker headlines the group but there’s plenty of talent elsewhere too -- Sidney Jones, Kevin King, Darren Gardenhire and JoJo McIntosh. Washington needs to replace safety Brian Clay, who was fourth on the team in tackles a year ago, but Ezekiel Turner, who played in 12 games for the Huskies, is in a position to step up there.
Washington State: The Cougars had the third-best pass defense in the Pac-12 in 2015 and they return most of their secondary, including Parker Henry, who plays a hybrid linebacker/safety role. The Cougars will need to find a replacement for Taylor Taliulu, but free safety Shalom Luani, who had four interceptions in 2015, is back as well as Marcellus Pippins, who had three interceptions and a team-high three fumble recoveries. This spring will be about getting their experienced players even more experience and finding someone to step into Taliulu’s shoes -- not a terrible “to-do” list.
Oregon: If any other team were returning the numbers in its secondary that Oregon returns in 2016, that group would be an absolute lock for the “great shape” category. But only seven teams nationally gave up more 20-yard passes than the Ducks and only one team gave up more passing touchdowns than the Ducks. So they get knocked down a few rungs -- the Pac-12 Blog doesn’t give out participation trophies. This spring, Oregon will have a great baseline of experience with which to work and players who have showed tremendous potential and made big plays. Now they need to do it consistently and not be a giant target for opposing passers.
Stanford: David Shaw has to feel good about his secondary. Between Alijah Hoder, Quenton Meeks and Terrence Alexander, the Cardinal are looking good at corner and nickel. Stanford loses safety Kodi Whitfield, but Dallas Lloyd has a season of eligibility remaining and the secondary got a boost with the return of Zach Hoffpauir. Younger players such as Justin Reid and Ben Edwards will get plenty of reps this spring to help push along the competition in this unit. This could be a huge strength of the Cardinal come next fall.
Cal: The Bears lose Stefan McClure and Darius White off a pass defense that was in the middle of the pack last year. Both started 13 games for Cal last season. McClure was the team’s fourth leading tackler and White led Cal with three interceptions. Darius Allensworth got a lot of good experience in 2015 and led the group in pass break-ups and passes defended. In 2016, he and Demariay Drew will need to shoulder more for this unit both on and off the field. This spring will be key for both of them as well as the younger players looking to step into starting positions next fall.
Oregon State: The most experienced returner is Treston Decoud, who started nine games for the Beavers a year ago and finished fifth on the team in total tackles. Justin Strong should return from injury and rejoin the starting lineup (where he was for the first eight games of the season) while Devin Chappell and Kendall Hill, who earned starting spots in the second half of 2015, will need to step up even more to give this group a real feeling of cohesion. There’s some experience there, we’ll see if they can put together a group that can play well consistently.