Washington Huskies

Huskies’ ‘Death Row’ defense asserting itself at UW spring practices

University of Washington linebacker Keishawn Bierria (center) switched jersey numbers during the offseason from the No. 25 he wore last season to the No. 7 vacated by All-American Shaq Thompson, now with the Carolina Panthers. “I’m not trying to replace Shaq. But I am trying to do what he has done — like, be a playmaker for the team,” Bierria says.
University of Washington linebacker Keishawn Bierria (center) switched jersey numbers during the offseason from the No. 25 he wore last season to the No. 7 vacated by All-American Shaq Thompson, now with the Carolina Panthers. “I’m not trying to replace Shaq. But I am trying to do what he has done — like, be a playmaker for the team,” Bierria says. The Associated Press

The self-adopted “Death Row” nickname for the Washington Huskies’ defense, linebacker Keishawn Bierria said, predates his arrival at UW. Yet the moniker appears to be gaining prominence on social media among players and fans. One creative supporter even composed a YouTube mix of UW’s 2015 defensive highlights with “Death Row” in the title.

Bierria, who will be a fourth-year junior in 2016, said he isn’t sure why the name is just now becoming public.

“Death Row has been around for a long time,” Bierria said after UW’s Wednesday practice. “It’s been around before I even got here. It’s something the older guys passed down to us. It’s a name. It has its own meaning. It’s also a way of thinking, what style of defense we should play.”

And that is?

“I don’t know if I should say it right now,” Bierria said. “It’s whatever anybody else wants to make it. But our team, our defense, we have our own meaning for it. I’m not going to be the guy to express that. It’s whatever y’all think it is. … But it definitely has a strong connotation for us.”

Whatever the connotation, UW’s defense seemed to live up to it Wednesday morning. The defense frequently bothered Huskies quarterbacks Jake Browning and K.J. Carta-Samuels, and it sacked Carta-Samuels three times during a four-play, 11-on-11 series. Browning had to scramble several times because of pressure.

The Huskies allowed fewer points per game and fewer yards per play than any Pac-12 team last season. They return eight starters. And they’re practicing like it.

They also grew irritated during Wednesday’s final 11-on-11 period. Azeem Victor, the hard-hitting junior linebacker who led the team last season with 95 tackles, was removed from the drill after an apparent late hit. On the next play, after the defense stopped tailback Myles Gaskin on a fourth-and-short carry, junior tackle Elijah Qualls removed his helmet and shouted in celebration.

This did not amuse UW’s coaching staff. Qualls and Victor each stayed a while after practice with their position coaches. Disciplinary conditioning followed.

“It always gets heated when the defense is dominating,” Bierria said afterward. “We like it. But definitely, guys have got to keep their poise. Even though it’s just practice, we’ve got to treat it like it’s the game. Just keep your poise, but still bring that edge.”

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