By Rich Myhre Herald Writer
SEATTLE — A little more than two months after finishing the 2012 season, the University of Washington football team will begin preparing for the coming season with tonight’s first of 15 spring practices.
Over the next few weeks the Huskies will work out on their practice field directly east of Husky Stadium (or on cold or rainy days, in the Dempsey Indoor facility), and the goals will be many. Among them, UW head coach Steve Sarkisian wants to have young players improve, he wants to try certain players in new positions, he wants to see the emergence of new leaders, and he wants to expand the team’s use of a no-huddle offense.
But at a Monday afternoon media get-together, Sarkisian was very clear about the spring’s No. 1 priority.
“The passing game is probably the biggest thing offensively that I want to come out of this spring feeling better about,” he said.
That includes better pass blocking from an offensive line that was inexperienced and hampered by injuries in 2012, and it also means bringing along other receivers to complement the team’s 1-2 punch of wide receiver Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Sefarian-Jenkins.
But Sarkisian, no question, also wants to see better play at the quarterback position. Keith Price, the senior-to-be incumbent, had a disappointing 2012 season, and the team has four young quarterbacks “that are chomping at the bit … to make this into a competition that either is going to push Keith to be a better player or ultimately to try to surpass him,” Sarkisian said.
Those other quarterbacks are redshirt sophomore Derrick Brown (the backup in 2012), redshirt freshmen Jeff Lindquist and Cyler Miles, and true freshman Troy Williams. The latter graduated from high school early and enrolled at Washington for winter quarter in order to participate in spring drills.
All were highly touted recruits, and they give the Huskies a depth of talent at the position perhaps unprecedented in program history.
That said, Sarkisian is not giving up on Price, who had an exceptional sophomore season in 2011, his first as the team’s fulltime starter.
“Keith Price is our starting quarterback,” Sarkisian said, “and the goal is to get (him) back to playing the way he was two years ago. … We’ve been through a lot together, and we’ve got one chapter left where we want to make this thing a great ending.
“I hope for him that that happens. But like I’ve said to Keith, we’re not going to be stubborn enough to think if another guy is playing better, that guy won’t get the opportunity to beat him out. … He chose to be a quarterback when he was 7 years old and (competition) is just part of the gig.”
Washington finished 2012 with a 7-6 record, which included impressive wins against Stanford and Oregon State, but also included disappointing season-ending losses to Washington State and Boise State, the latter in the Las Vegas Bowl.
“We lost two football games late in the year that we should have won,” Sarkisian said, “and the end result is we’re sitting here talking about a 7-6 football team when we could’ve been here talking about a 9-4 football team. … And I don’t think that (bad) taste is going to go anywhere for a while, but that’s OK.”
The reason, he explained, “is there’s zero complacency in our locker room right now. This is a hungry group that wants to redeem itself for the opportunities that we let get away from us. The end result could be a real positive impact that those two games had on our program (because) I know what our guys have been doing in their offseason conditioning. And now we just need to put it all together.”
The Huskies have closed the gap on some of the Pac-12’s top teams the last two years, and in 2013 “I don’t see why we wouldn’t be in a position to compete for a division championship,” Sarkisian said. “That’s really the goal. (Because) if you win your division, then you get to play for a conference championship. And if you’re playing for a conference championship, then you get to play for a Rose Bowl championship.
“We feel we’ve made strides,” he said. “I know our record hasn’t always been indicative of that … but I think we have the roster in place to take that step (to division contention) and to do it consistently.
“I’m excited about this team. This is a great group of guys that have a chance to be pretty special. We have a lot of work to do obviously, but we’re poised for a great run.”