April 16, 2010
SEATTLE - When football practice ended Thursday afternoon, Keith Price and Nick Montana spent 20 minutes heaving a ball through the cloudless skies above Husky Stadium. The duo had a group of receivers run every route possible, trying to squeeze in some extra work on top an already action-packed team workout.
Each quarterback is fighting for the backup slot to Jake Locker, but they're also fighting to gain knowledge of a complicated playbook and deal with safeties that suddenly run 4.5 40s. Price joked after practice that the biggest difference between last fall and the present is simple - the game has slowed down a little.
"I actually know what I'm doing," said Price with a wide grin.
Price's overall improvements, according to several parties, have been impressive. But whether it's enough for Price to stake a firm leg up in the derby for the No. 2 spot is still not clear. Each quarterback has made his share of plays and mistakes over the course of Spring Practice, and Coach Steve Sarkisian is in no rush to produce a depth chart just yet.
When Price arrived this spring, he came with added muscle and a more compact throwing motion. This was the result of some offseason work with Doug Nussmeier, the team's offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. With refinements made thos his throwing motion, Price now has a smoother delivery that has produced better accuracy. This has drawn praise from his receiving corps, who noted the quarterback is beginning to display a firmer command of the offense.
"He's able to see things that weren't there (last fall)," said wide receiver D'Andre Goodwin. "He's making a lot better reads and giving us a better chance at the ball."
During the fall, Price served as the scout-team quarterback as a freshman but did not see game action and redshirted. Those are the reps that help grow quarterbacks, so it's hard to evaluate them otherwise. Perhaps the best attribute about Price, though, is how well he handles coaching. The Compton, Calif., native is a constant presence in Nussmeier's office breaking down practice film and looking for ways to improve. Desire is not the question for Price, Nussmeier said, it's how well he can adjust when the pressure is on and make the correct throws.
"He's a fun kid to be around," Nussmeier said. "But his learning curve right now is very steep. He's a young guy and that's not easy in our system."
When he first arrived at Washington, Price said his jaw dropped when he picked up his playbook. He had come from a system at St. John Bosco where it was primarily a spread offense, and Price had the luxury of taking off when plays broke down. Now everything is different, from the verbiage to the sheer amount of plays Price needs to memorize. The latest sticking point for the coaching staff is getting Price to understand his "hot reads" better, so he can know where to go with the ball when defensive pressure arrives. Taking sacks is an absolute no-no in the Sarkisian system.
"For me, it's just a natural thing that when nothing is open I get out and run," Price said. "But I need to learn to just burn it. I got an earful for about two minutes today for not throwing the ball away ... something so simple can make a difference in a game."
Last fall, Price said he wasn't able to read the whole field because everything moved too fast for him. Now he's able to drop back, make a read and if it isn't there, go to his secondary receiver. But it's a work in progress, as it is for all young quarterbacks.
But none of it seems to faze Price, who carries a good-natured SoCal demeanor about him. It's evident in the way Montana and Price have bonded and help each other out, despite the outward appearance of a position battle.
"We're helping each other out," Price said. "Most of all, we're having fun out here as well."