SEATTLE — With an offense that features just two projected starters who are entering their senior seasons, the University of Washington football team is not exactly a reservoir of football experience.
Then again, it doesn’t take Joe Paterno to know repetition when he sees it.
The Huskies’ so-called “new” offense doesn’t seem all that different from what they’ve seen in the recent past.
“Every offense in the Pac-10 is the same,” sophomore tight end Kavario Middleton said with a shrug when asked to compare this year’s UW offense to the one run under Tyrone Willingham in recent seasons.
With seven starters returning from an offense that ranked near the bottom of the NCAA last season, and a similar system, the Huskies don’t appear to have the weapons to go to war with some of the Pacific-10 Conference’s finest.
Except for one: Steve Sarkisian.
Using many of the same concepts that he ran while serving as coordinator at USC, Sarkisian will roam the UW sideline with the reputation for offensive ingenuity. His Trojans offenses always were among the nation’s best, and so even the most ardent Husky hater will enter this season with a curious eye on the “new” system.
“Coach Sark is an offensive genius,” said UW cornerback Justin Glenn, who has been working against Sarkisian’s offense at practices this fall. “People are going to see that. I think we’ll be able to do pretty well with the system that we’re in.”
The biggest question, of course, is talent. Any discussion about Sarkisian’s success at USC comes with the caveat that he had many of the nation’s top athletes at his disposal.
The question looms: Did the system make USC All-Americans like Matt Leinart, Reggie Bush and Dwayne Jarrett, or did the All-Americans make USC’s system?
Asked this week about his somewhat tarnished reputation as a play-caller, Sarkisian said: “I don’t mind. Hopefully, that’s what they say about us here. When you play good, you’ve got to be pretty talented. You’ve just got to get the talented guys the ball.”
No one can argue that the Huskies have less talent than the Trojans ever did. It’s conceivable that quarterback Jake Locker is the only player on UW’s offense who would challenge for a starting job at Sarkisian’s former school. But when Husky coaches talk about fitting this system to his talents, they’re not planning on employing any “Jake-Run-Left-And-10-Men-Block” offenses this season.
“We’ve got playmakers that we can feature, that can do things with the ball in their hands,” said receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty, who spent the past five seasons at the University of San Diego. “Obviously, Jake is a special guy, but we’ve also got guys around him. He doesn’t have to do this on his own; he just has to drive the car. It should be exciting.”
Using a similar system, the Huskies were worlds away from exciting during the Tyrone Willingham era.
What separates the current system from that one, on paper, is concepts. Sarkisian is known as more of an attacker, meaning he’ll take chances in an effort to get a big play.
“He’s going to call the offense very aggressive,” said UW running back Johri Fogerson, who faced Sarkisian’s USC offense while playing safety for the Huskies last season. “He coaches the offense like coach (Nick) Holt coaches the defense: really aggressive, keeping people on their toes, making people think a lot. He never shows too many things the same way. He’s a smart coach.”
But brains and usable parts are two different animals. As former UW coach Jim Lambright mused while attending a practice this week, the Huskies still have a ways to go when it comes to athletes.
“They’ve had so many changes that it’s going to take awhile for them to get the talent level back up to where it needs to be,” Lambright said.
The ever-confident Fogerson said talent won’t be an issue for the 2009 Huskies.
“We’ve made a lot of progress since last year,” he said. “Honestly, the Pac-10 is talented, no matter who you are. If you play in the Pac-10, you’re talented.
“With his coaching staff, Coach Sark can do anything, with anyone in the Pac-10.”
The Huskies’ rebuilding program will certainly test that theory. Fullback Paul Homer, one of the lone seniors on the offense, is eager to see what kind of results the so-called Sark System will produce.
“The coaches have done a really good job of getting the best out of the personnel and using the system to fit what we’ve got,” he said. “These are top-of-the-line coaches.”
Sarkisian said that two reserves — safety Jason Wells (Achilles) and offensive lineman Skyler Fancher (ankle) — are unlikely to be available for the Sept. 5 opener. Fancher is going to have tests on the ankle and may require surgery, Sarkisian said. Linebacker Matt Houston (biceps) appears doubtful for that game, while the rest of UW’s injured players are expected to be available. … Running back Chris Polk did not practice Wednesday after getting bumped on the head at Tuesday’s night practice. Sarkisian said the trainers were being cautious by holding him out of practice. Wide receiver Cody Bruns (hamstring) was also held out. … Cornerback Quinton Richardson (hip) and tight end Dorson Boyce (leg) returned to practice Wednesday. … One day after getting demoted, safety Greg Walker continued to work with the No. 2 defense Wednesday. Victor Aiyewa saw most of the reps as the No. 1 free safety. … Freshman cornerback Desmond Trufant continued to take most of the snaps with the No. 1 de fense, while Glenn spent most of Wednesday working with the second string. … Freshman defensive end Talia Crichton returned to practice after getting cleared by the NCAA. Linebacker Tim Tucker is still awaiting clearance. … The Huskies hired former Minnesota Vikings defensive end Kenechi Udeze as their assistant strength coach. Udeze, 26, recently retired from the NFL after being diagnosed with leukemia. … Among the people who attended Wednesday’s practice was former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, whose son-in-law, Matt Peterson, works for the UW athletic department. … Today marks the final day of practices completely open to the public, with sessions at 8:45 a.m. and 4:15 p.m.