Huskies' offense has new look, new feel
Washington has a different cast of go-to players this season to support quarterback Keith Price
There was happy-go-lucky quarterback Keith Price throwing passes to, and giving an earful to, receiver Kasen Williams for 10 to 15 minutes after almost every practice of the spring.
Why the sudden change in demeanor?
Quite simply, Price knows that whatever success he and the Huskies have this season will depend almost exclusively on a new cast of go-to players.
While this time last year, it was Price who had everything to prove on an offense filled with returning talent at the skill positions, this time around it's a much different story. Price, a budding superstar who is one or two lights-out games from breaking onto the Heisman Trophy scene, finds himself surrounded by plenty of potential but no proven commodity on the UW offense.
The Huskies are so green at the receiver position, where two true freshmen are listed with Williams among the three projected starters, that Price recently quipped: "All season, I'll be holding tutoring sessions."
In Williams, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins and running back Jesse Callier, UW has three potential gamebreakers who have a spattering of highlight plays on their resume tapes. But none of them has yet to prove himself as a primary option on the Huskies' offense.
The perception of UW's offensive makeup is that it's Price and a bunch of unproven players -- and that's just fine with the Huskies.
"My dad always told me: the best thing to come from is the bottom," said Callier, a junior who has gained 693 yards over two seasons as Chris Polk's backup. "When you come from the bottom, where no one is expecting you, the next thing you know you're on them."
Callier makes no pledges about becoming the second coming of Polk, who set several UW rushing records during his three-plus years at the school. Callier and sophomore Bishop Sankey are expected to split time at the tailback position, where Polk has been a fixture for each of head coach Steve Sarkisian's first three seasons at UW.
How the Huskies are going to replace Polk's production appears to be the main question on this UW offense, yet Callier doesn't feel any extra weight on his shoulders.
"I see it as an opportunity," he said. "However many carries I get, I'll make the best of them. If it's two carries, three carries, then I'll make the best of them."
At tight end, Price has his most known commodity in Seferian-Jenkins, a 6-foot-7 sophomore who was tied for second on the team with 41 receptions last season. The Gig Harbor native almost single-handedly revived the tight end position at UW, but this year he knows that nothing is guaranteed.
"Just because I'm returning, that doesn't mean I'm going to get the ball more or anything like that," he said this week. "It's all about who works the hardest and who makes the most plays and does their job to the best of their ability."
The most question marks are at the wide receiver position, where longtime starters Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar carried the load and made big play after big play for UW but have since moved on. Senior James Johnson was expected to be a go-to receiver this year but could miss as many as four games with a wrist injury. Sophomore Kevin Smith is still recovering from knee surgery and probably won't be much of a factor until Pacific-12 Conference play begins in late September.
That leaves Williams, fifth-year senior Cody Bruns and a bunch of untested receivers to serve as Price's hands. True freshmen Kendyl Taylor and Jaydon Mickens, both 5-foot-10 playmakers, have risen up the depth chart but have yet to play a game at the college level.
Sarkisian has high hopes for both players, even though he readily admits there will be alignment mistakes and dropped passes as the freshmen learn on the fly.
Still, he sees Taylor and Mickens as being key cogs in the offensive engine.
"Their big-play potential," Sarkisian said, "makes us different offensively."
Williams, a prized recruit from Sammamish's Eastlake High School who caught 31 passes as a true freshman last fall, is expected to be the go-to wideout on this year's Huskies. But he tended to disappear at times in spring practices and has been only slightly more visible this preseason.
Price spent much of the offseason working with Williams, whom he knows will be a key to UW's offensive success this year.
Despite the tough love, Williams has been impressed with the way his quarterback has worked to get everyone on the same page.
"He's taking that next step, like we've all been saying," Williams said this week. "I think he's going to be even better this year."
Of course, Price will only be as good as the untested group of skill players around him.
"It took him a little bit to adapt," Williams said. "Once you get acclimated to throwing to people, then they change things, that's (an adjustment). But he's adapted well."
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