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Junior Keith Taylor leading Huskies’ new-look secondary

Washington defensive back Keith Taylor (27) and Washington linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven (25) celebrate Burr-Kirven’s interception in the fourth quarter put the game away. The Washington Huskies played the Colorado Buffaloes in a NCAA football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018.
Washington defensive back Keith Taylor (27) and Washington linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven (25) celebrate Burr-Kirven’s interception in the fourth quarter put the game away. The Washington Huskies played the Colorado Buffaloes in a NCAA football game at Husky Stadium in Seattle, Wash., on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018. joshua.bessex@gateline.com

Washington defensive coordinator Jimmy Lake talked about it last year, how often cornerback Keith Taylor would come to his office to sit and learn and talk about how he could get better.

The extra effort paid off. Taylor played in all 14 games in 2018. When cornerback Jordan Miller missed time with an injury, it was Taylor who slid into the starting role against Cal and Stanford without missing a beat.

Lake praised his mindset, saying Taylor was always ready for an opportunity. It should come as no surprise, then, that in a spring practice loaded with competition for a starting spot in the secondary, Taylor has been one of the Huskies’ most consistent players.

Over the past month, many of UW’s defensive backs have rotated from cornerback to nickelback to safety. But while Taylor said he would do what was asked of him, he’s been a staple at first-team cornerback — the position where he feels most comfortable.

“I was very pleased with him last year, the games he had to step in and start when Jordan Miller was hurt,” Lake said after practice on Monday. “He played big-time football for us down the stretch.”

Last season, Taylor proved his abilities on the field. But the Huskies’ secondary lost more than just their starting cornerbacks and safeties, they also lost their leaders. Taylor is now one of UW’s most experienced defensive backs, so Lake is looking to him to fill that gap.

“He’s got to be a vocal guy for us,” Lake said. “We’ve lost some vocal guys this last year and now he’s the guy. Technically right now, he’s on pace with all of his man skills and his zone skills. He’s right on pace, we just have to tweak a few things.

“For him, it’s going to be more of that leadership role. When things don’t go right in practice, all the younger guys are going to be looking to him now. He’s one of the older guys.”

While that might be the season’s biggest challenge for the quiet and soft-spoken Taylor, he understands the tradition of UW’s secondary. He even spent several minutes after practice answering questions about the former Husky defensive backs expected to be selected in the NFL Draft.

But despite the significant losses, Taylor is focused on preventing any kind of drop off. After last year’s win over Stanford, he stressed the importance of the secondary’s “next man up” philosophy. The same holds true for the 2019 season.

“Really it’s just keeping the standard high in the room, the DB room,” Taylor said. “Just keeping the standard high on the defense, really. We want to keep that death row manta. We got to play like it.”

More than anything, he said last year’s starters taught him the importance of preparation.

“Just staying detailed in our technique, always staying ball aware,” Taylor said. “Just going out there and making plays and having confidence in yourself.”

Taylor has been contributing since he was a freshman, playing in 12 of 13 games in his first season with the Huskies. The increased playing time and spot starts last season helped build his confidence. Still, there’s one statistic that has eluded Taylor in his first two years in the program: An interception.

Both Taylor and Lake want to fix that come fall.

“He’s got to cash in when the opportunity presents itself,” Lake said. “He was close last year but right now he’s got zero career interceptions. We’re hoping to change that.”

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