SEATTLE — For the first 22 minutes of his pre-spring ball press conference Monday afternoon, University of Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian almost exclusively fielded questions about the quarterback position of next fall’s Huskies.
What Sarkisian won’t provide anytime soon is the answer.
Now that Jake Locker is one step away from fulfilling his dream of being on an NFL roster, the Huskies will begin looking for his replacement. And what promises to be a long, drawn-out process probably won’t get settled over the next four weeks.
“I’m not going to rush to judgment to name a starter for the sake of naming a starter,” Sarkisian said Monday, as his Huskies prepared for the opening of a spring practice schedule that begins today and runs through the month of April. “But I’m also not planning on going into the season platooning quarterbacks, either. We’re just going to take our time.”
The biggest issue heading into spring practice comes down to a pair of quarterbacks who have combined for one start, 19 completions and two touchdowns. Keith Price and Nick Montana have nowhere near the experience that Locker had when Sarkisian and his staff arrived two years ago, and yet as the Huskies’ head coach prepares for his first full-blown quarterback competition at UW, Sarkisian shows very little concern.
“I think they’re further along in this style of play than where Jake was at this point in his career,” Sarkisian said Monday, referring to the fact that Locker had to make the transition from a passing quarterback to more of a drop-back player as a junior.
Of the two returning signal-callers, Price has the most experience — and that’s relative on a team that has relied so heavily on Locker in recent years. His only start came in a game at Oregon last season, while Montana has yet to take a snap because he redshirted as a freshman last fall.
“Both of these guys have improved immensely in the short amount of time that they’ve been here,” Sarkisian said Monday. “… I like both of them.”
While it’s hard to argue that Price’s game experience gives him an upper-hand in the competition, Sarkisian is giving both players a relatively even shot.
“It’s only an advantage if he uses the experience,” Sarkisian said of the eight games in which Price saw action last season. “For me, I’m going to judge them based on the body of work, and where they started from the day we started working with them to when that decision time comes. I think they’ve both come a long, long way.”
Before Sarkisian even begins to make a final decision, he’s been harping on the importance of developing both quarterbacks because “we’re going to need both of these kids.” But a platoon system is all but out of the question, meaning the competition will continue toward an eventual winner.
“I could see it going into September,” Sarkisian said. “I hate to rush this thing because they’re both so young. Their ceiling is so high, and there’s so much room to grow, that I just don’t want to make a decision based on a couple of practices.”
The inexperience of UW’s quarterbacks would make for a natural easing-in process, but Sarkisian said he’s not going to allow that — either in the spring or when the season begins.
“I never had training wheels, and my 5-year-old doesn’t, either,” Sarkisian said. “You go down the hill, baby.”
In an offense that includes a record-setting running back in junior-to-be Chris Polk, the Huskies could afford to play more of a Woody Hayes style of football. But the Huskies aren’t going to scrap their system just to make the young quarterbacks’ jobs easier.
Sarkisian said both Price and Montana have shown plenty of signs that they can handle the job — it’s just a matter of one of them going out and doing it.
“They both work extremely hard in the weight room, and both are very well-liked by their teammates,” Sarkisian said. “They walk around, they are bright-eyed, they are smiling. At the end of the day I think they have a lot of intangibles that you want at the quarterback position. Now how that all plays out remains to be seen.”
While Locker is being projected by some to be a first-round pick in next month’s NFL draft, Sarkisian isn’t panicking at the notion of moving on without him. He used the NBA’s Denver Nuggets as an example, pointing out that they’ve actually been more successful since trading All-Star Carmelo Anthony to New York.
“I don’t know exactly how that happens,” Sarkisian said, “but I’d like to think we can be that team.”
What Sarkisian did not mention was Locker’s 16-25 record as a starter, which leads to the question about how much worse off the Huskies might be without him.
But after a strong finish to the 2010 season, and with a hobbled Locker making key plays in the clutch, the Huskies would sure love to have him back for one more go-round.
That’s not an option anymore, so Sarkisian will make his bed with either Price or Montana this fall. And the battle to be the next Jake Locker begins today.
Just don’t expect any announcements from the coach about his upcoming starter any time soon.
“I think they could ultimately improve not only through spring, but into summer and fall camp,” Sarkisian said Monday. “If the timing’s right and it feels right to me, then we’ll make a decision.”