By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
SEATTLE — For the past month, University of Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian has led his team through three-times-a-week practices and tried to evaluate his players under a microscope.
Tonight, he gets to set them free.
When the Huskies play their annual spring game, Sarkisian is ready to watch them compete without restraints.
“I want to see our kids play, and play free, fun, physical football,” he said this week. “Play fast, not play concerned, not worry. Just go out and play ball in the absence of fear and not worry about making mistakes. And have fun playing football.”
Oh, and one more thing.
“I don’t want (the score) to be 3-0,” Sarkisian said. “I know that much.”
Whatever happens tonight, in what the school is billing as “Friday Night Lights” because the football program did not want a conflict in scheduling with Saturday’s Windemere Cup crew races, Sarkisian will just be glad to see the Huskies in action.
For fans planning to attend the free event, tonight’s spring game could offer several elements to pique curiosity.
It will be another opportunity to get a long look at freshman running back Deontae Cooper, an early-enrollee who has been the star of the first two scrimmages of the spring. Cooper has seen extended playing time while starter Chris Polk and fellow freshman Jesse Callier recover from injuries.
It’s also a chance to see Heisman Trophy hopeful Jake Locker, who spurned the possibility of being the No. 1 overall pick in last week’s NFL draft in favor of returning for his senior season at UW. Locker is one of nine returning starters on the Huskies’ offense.
The most intriguing aspect of the spring game could be the ongoing battle for roles. Among the areas still being evaluated are:
n Tight end: Junior-to-be Kavario Middleton was one of Locker’s go-to targets last season, but he’s been passed over in favor of Chris Izbicki as the starter. The duo is likely to compete all the way up to the September opener at BYU.
n Quarterback: Relax, junior Mel Kiper Jrs. Locker isn’t in danger of losing his starting job. But the battle to be his backup is a heated one, with true freshman Nick Montana and redshirt freshman Keith Price likely to see plenty of action tonight.
n Halfback: Cooper’s impressive showing has pushed him into a battle with junior-to-be Johri Fogerson for the No. 2 job behind Polk. The true freshman broke two long touchdown runs in Saturday’s scrimmage, and a couple more big plays tonight could cement his role as a freshman contributor in the fall.
n Cornerback: Veterans Quinton Richardson and Vonzell McDowell Jr. have gotten the bulk of the reps with the first team while Desmond Trufant rests a groin injury. One of them may just win back his starting job after Adam Long was demoted at the start of the spring.
n Safety: Nate Williams has one spot, but the battle for the other job has been one of the most heated competitions of the spring. Justin Glenn, Nate Fellner and Greg Walker saw time as starters last season, but redshirt freshman Will Shamburger might have the inside track after a strong spring.
n Linebacker: Mason Foster and Cort Dennison are set in stone, while converted safety Alvin Logan is trying to earn the other starting job on the outside.
The format of tonight’s scrimmage will be much like previous ones, with two teams — one in purple, the other in white. Assistants Nick Holt and Dan Cozzetto will serve as coaches of the teams, while Sarkisian oversees the scrimmage.
The No. 1 offense and No. 2 defense will be on one team; the No. 2 offense and No. 1 defense on the other. Locker and Price will work with the No. 1 offense, while Montana will run the No. 2 unit.
There will be plenty to see at tonight’s annual event, but Sarkisian just wants his guys to have a good time and play free.
“I want to see a crisp, fast-paced scrimmage and a lot of interaction with the fans,” he said.
Sarkisian said wide receiver Jermaine Kearse (sprained foot) will not play tonight. Wide receivers James Johnson, Devin Aguilar and Cody Bruns will work with the No. 1 offense while Kearse and D’Andre Goodwin (hamstring) sit the session out. … Edmonds native Daniel Kanczugowski will start at right tackle, Sarkisian said.