April 24, 2009
By Tim Booth
SEATTLE -- Teaching and tweaking - a lot of both - best describe what new Washington coach Steve Sarkisian and his staff did for much of April.
Teaching in the sense of finally getting on the field and seeing Sarkisian's offensive plans and the system of new defensive coordinator Nick Holt in action.
Tweaking in making both those formulas fit the players the new Husky coaching staff inherited from the first 0-12 team in Pac-10 history.
"We've had to change some things. We've had to tweak this package to fit our personnel, so I think we're being smart about it and I think we're doing the right stuff for the hand we're dealt," Holt said this week. "What we're going to need for the season is all there. Now we've got to get good at it."
The new coaching staff will get its first chance to watch its players in a game-like setting on Saturday during the Huskies' annual spring game. Typically, it's a mundane event for players and fans craving a little football in the middle of spring.
But this year there's the curiosity about Sarkisian and the new attitude trying to be absorbed by players that haven't won a football game since November 2007.
Sarkisian opened all spring practices to fans, alumni, former players and media, inviting back those who were shunned in many regards by the previous coaching regime of Tyrone Willingham. Practices have been two-hour pressure cookers of nonstop action, with players sprinting from one field to another between drills and coaches barking encouragement and displeasure in the ear holes of helmets.
How the new attitude and approach translates to the field won't be known until Sept. 5, when LSU comes to Husky Stadium for Sarkisian's first game as a head coach. But Saturday's game should offer a little insight.
"We're going to let our guys have fun and go play," Sarkisian said. "It's not going to be a day where we're trying to teach a bunch of new stuff, running new plays, just let the guys go have fun and play."
Offensively, quarterback Jake Locker will take his first game snaps inside Husky Stadium since Sept. 27 when he broke the thumb of his throwing hand while playing against Stanford. Locker missed the final eight games of last season. He spent the winter absorbing Sarkisian's prostyle offense that moves away from the shotgun, spread formations Locker used his first two seasons.
During spring practice, Sarkisian has praised Locker's grasp of the new offense and his understanding of where to go with the ball in specific situations. Saturday will test whether Locker is willing to follow Sarkisian's plan and work on being more of a passer than a runner.
Defensively, Holt is trying to be realistic with what he is inheriting, going from five all-Pac-10 first-team players at USC last year to zero at Washington. Holt said he was able to accomplished what he wanted during the spring, installing the basics of his defense, and has a good understanding of what his players can and can't accomplish.
"The big thing about spring ball is getting all this stuff taught and getting a lot of reps to find out exactly where we are and who we are," Holt said. "We have a pretty good idea of who we are."