Open season as Huskies begin spring practice

SEATTLE — There will be no controversial quarterback battles, like there was this time last year when the University of Washington football team headed into spring practices. Junior-to-be Keith Price is firmly entrenched as UW’s quarterback of the past, present and future, and so that position seems to be in good hands.

As for the rest of the Huskies expected to contribute this fall? Let’s just say it’s open season.

With several recent stars in line to be selected in the NFL draft later this month, a few projected starters still dealing with injuries, and a coaching staff full of new faces, spring football at UW could be as competitive as ever.

In addition to a defense that is in flux after a coaching overhaul and the loss of leaders like Cort Dennison and Alameda Ta’amu, UW is still trying to make several decisions on the offensive side of the ball.

Will tailback Jesse Callier be able to single-handedly carry the load formerly hauled by Chris Polk? Are receivers Kasen Williams and James Johnson ready to lead the passing game? Has Michael Hartvigson had such a good offseason that he might join Austin Seferian-Jenkins as part of a two-tight-end lineup? And with injuries galore up front, who will join senior center Drew Schaefer on the Huskies’ offensive line?

But if UW fans are thinking some of these issues might get solved over the next four weeks, coach Steve Sarkisian is adding another issue to the mix.

“We’ve got a really talented class coming in,” Sarkisian said, referring to the incoming freshmen who will join the team in the fall, “so I don’t know if everything is going to be solidified.”

That being said, there will be several obvious focal points as this morning’s practice, which is closed to the public, kicks off four weeks of spring sessions.

The most notable, based on the popularity of the player being replaced, is at tailback. Polk has been UW’s most productive offensive player for each of the past three seasons, and now the Huskies will have to find a way to replace him. The obvious answer seems to be that Callier, a junior-to-be, will step into Polk’s shoes. But Sarkisian said last week that he may well fall back to the system he used as an offensive assistant at USC, where they typically went with a tailback-by-committee ground game.

“We had the luxury here for three years with Chris of having that guy who could carry the load as a feature back,” Sarkisian said Friday. “But I’m not opposed, by any means, of going back to having multiple backs back there. But we have to see what these guys can really do. Can Jesse Callier carry the ball 25 times? Or is it Jesse and Bishop (Sankey splitting time)?”

The offensive line is also in flux, with left tackle Senio Kelemete gone to a likely NFL career and three projected starters — Erik Kohler, Colin Porter and Colin Tanigawa — struggling with health issues. It could be an important camp for reserves like Micah Hatchie, Ben Riva and Stanwood High School graduate Dexter Charles, all of whom have a chance to earn playing time.

UW’s defense, with four new coaches and seven returning starters, has even more on the line. Almost every position could be up for grabs as the new coaching staff tries to find the right combination. Cornerback Desmond Trufant might be the only player assured of a starting job on that side of the ball heading into the spring, while Sarkisian said the other cornerback position could turn out to be quite a battle between Greg Ducre and Marcus Peters.

Maybe the most intriguing opportunity for a role comes at quarterback, where the Huskies have one of the top returning starters in the nation but have no experience behind Price. Redshirt freshman Derrick Brown has a chance to move into the backup role vacated by the transfer of Nick Montana, and this camp could give him a leg up on the competition. Brown is the only scholarship quarterback other than Price expected to participate in spring ball, so he has a chance to establish himself before prized freshmen Jeff Lindquist of Mercer Island and Cyler Miles of Denver arrived in the fall.

“A lot of the youth on this football team that we’ve spoken about for the last year or so,” Sarkisian said, “this is a great opportunity for them.”

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