By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — With each new era comes the mileposts of history, whether that means an opening press conference filled with optimistic promises, a benchmark win or a season that puts a program on the map.
But this is the University of Washington football program, within which the last two head coaches have stumbled, and so it was a step in the right direction Monday afternoon when new coach Steve Sarkisian ran onto the practice field without tripping over his own feet.
Yet another era of Husky football began Monday, when Sarkisian led UW into its first practice of the fall camp. While the session wasn’t enough to send opening opponent LSU scrambling for the white flag of surrender, the Huskies’ unofficial debut did give the new coaching staff a sense of optimism.
“It was a lot better than our Day 1 of the spring, just from an execution standpoint, on both sides of the ball,” Sarkisian said after a session that lasted just under 21/2 hours Monday afternoon. “We were playing faster. All our kids have studied and prepared all offseason.
“Was it perfect? No. But I thought we did things really, really well that jumped out at me.”
Quarterback play was at the top of that list, as Sarkisian was impressed with starter Jake Locker, backup Ronnie Fouch and true freshman Keith Price. He was also encouraged by the competitive fire of the UW receiving corps, despite a few dropped passes Monday afternoon.
But the session certainly left plenty of room for improvement, particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
“We need to do a better job of starting off faster,” defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “But it was a good first day. We expect it to be good all the time. It was just a little slow-starting.”
Holt has been preaching a more aggressive defense, so he was a tad bit disappointed in the lack of turnovers Monday. While his defense did finally force a couple of fumbles late in the session, the offense got the last laugh with a long Johri Fogerson run and a nice catch from Jermaine Kearse on the final two plays of practice.
Sarkisian, who has been preaching that there are plenty of starting spots up for grabs, said that he was encouraged by the competitive fire in people’s eyes.
“You look at our wide receiver play today, there were some guys that were hungry to get the football,” Sarkisian said early Monday evening. “You look at the defensive backfield, we were rolling guys through there, the safety and the corner spots. The defensive line and running back, there were a lot of guys rolling through.
“I’m anxious to look at the film. I think you’re going to see a lot of guys do things well. But also, there are a lot of things to get cleaned up.”
Kearse, D’Andre Goodwin and Jordan Polk saw the most action at receiver with the first team, while sophomore Willie Griffin was the primary tailback at another position ripe with competition. On defense, freshman cornerback Justin Glenn worked with the No. 1 defense while trying to earn a starting job.
“(The coaches) told us when they came in: everyone has an equal opportunity to play, no matter who you are,” said Glenn, a Kamiak High School graduate who redshirted with the Huskies last fall. “It’s up in the air, and it’s up to you to get it. That’s what I’m trying to do.”
Even those rare players whose starting jobs appear sewn up had reason for excitement. Locker, who missed the final eight games of the 2008 season because of a broken thumb, is ready to get back to playing football.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten a chance to put on a jersey and go out and play for real,” he said after Monday’s practice. “I’m looking forward to it. Just to be able to come out here and play is a blessing.”
There are still plenty of starting positions to be earned, and mistakes to clean up, but the Huskies are excited to be back playing football and starting a new era.
“We’ve been anxious to get out here,” Glenn said. “I’m sure that when two-a-days come, we’ll be tired. But the first day, everyone’s got energy and everyone’s happy to be out here, for sure.”