Aug. 8, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Even Keith Price's family is wowed with his new gig.
"My family is always, `Man, can you BELIEVE ...?" Washington's redshirt sophomore says.
Yes, from Price's native Southern California to Seattle and everywhere else tuned into Purple and Gold, it's going to take past August 8 for many to believe Jake Locker isn't the Huskies' starting quarterback anymore.
Yet it's real. Monday's start of fall camp for the 2011 season was the first practice day since the end of the '06 season that someone other than Locker was atop the depth chart at the game's most important position.
And the always effervescent Price was smiling and cackling over the significance.
Make that for him, the lack of significance.
"I just play. I don't think too much about it," said Price, whom coach Steve Sarkisian named the starter coming out of spring practice four months ago. "I'm just playing football. That's it.
"You know, Jake's a hard worker, and just watching him being around here he was always making the team better. Now I have to run the show, which was different for me. But it was fun. You accept new roles every year, and I accept the role. I'm ready."
Price, who started last November at Oregon and impressed the Huskies with his poise and smiles while facing the top-ranked Ducks, said he's texted Locker a couple of times in the last couple weeks. He's not holding it against Locker that his mentor, the eighth-overall pick in the NFL draft now in a crash course quarterbacking the Tennessee Titans, hasn't responded yet.
"I know he's busy," a chuckling Price said.
So is Price.
Monday was the first day of his own crash course. His is trying to get in synch with the Huskies' noticeable, new receiving weapons: Ballyhooed freshman wide receiver Kasen Williams, last fall's Parade national high school player of the year from Skyline High School in nearby Sammamish, Wash., plus huge, soft-handed Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the tight end from Gig Harbor every big program wanted on signing day in February.
Williams made a splash on Day 1 - just by walking onto the field on his first day of college football. He is listed at 6-foot-2, 212 pounds, and his big shoulders and chest accentuated the fact he is already the biggest wide receiver on the team.
Sarkisian acknowledged that. Then he thought of 6-1, 334-pound defensive tackle Danny Shelton and his legs that seem the size of some defensive backs, and said, "this freshman class is longer and bigger."
Once practice began, Williams made at least three one-handed catches with defenders blanketing him. The former basketball - and track - star at Skyline High looked like a hoopster boxing out starting defensive backs while as the third and fourth receiver with the first-team offense.
"Oh, he's real good. He's got great leaping ability," safety Sean Parker said, after Williams used his back side to wall him off for a reception.
Parker later got even. The candidate battling Will Shamburger and Taz Stevenson to replace graduated captain Nate Williams at strong safety intercepted a pass when Price overthrew Williams on a corner route.
Wide receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty acknowledged how much raw talent Williams has. He also admitted he "threw him right out there" with the starting offense Monday, and liked what he saw.
Price also has 1,000-yard receiver Jermaine Kearse and fellow senior wide out Devin Aguilar returning. And he will be using emerging sophomore Kevin Smith more than Locker did last season, if Monday is any indication.
"It's good. I am learning how they come out of routes. And they are learning how I throw the ball," Price said of his receivers.
Price spent weeks this summer throwing "a lot" alongside Matt Hasselbeck during workouts NFL players did at UW's Dempsey Indoor. He said the former Seahawks, now Titans quarterback gave him tips on precision passing and how to improve his footwork.
Sure, Price was excited that Sarkisian named him the starter in April over redshirt freshman Nick Montana, a few days after Price's four-touchdown performance in UW's spring game.
"But I still have a long way to go. We still have three, four weeks until the season," Price said of the opener Sept. 3 against Eastern Washington. "I'm still pushing. I still see it as a competition, trying to better myself.
"There's always going to be pressure. Being the quarterback, if we win I'm going to get all the praise. And if we lose, I'm going to get bum rushed. I'm just going to stay level-headed, and I'm going to keep on learning it."
Sarkisian knew the comparison was coming, hours before the first practice. So he had a ready answer for how Price should replace a Washington icon.
"Not to try to be Jake Locker. To be Keith Price," Sarkisian said. "Keith's got a great personality about him. He's an awesome kid. His teammates really respect him for who he is, not only on the field but off the field. And to be him.
"That s the challenge, because so many times ... each and every one of you guys are going to ask him what s it like to replace Jake Locker, and Jake did this, and Jake did that. Well, at this point - I love Jake to death, I hope he goes on and does great things in the NFL - but he doesn't get to play for us anymore.
Sarkisian listed these as his most pressing concerns for fall camp, which will begin featuring two-a-day drills in full pads Saturday:
--Finding new OLBs to replace Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa, both of whom are now with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Princeton Fuimaono, Garret Gilliland; Jamaal Kearse and John Timu are getting first shots.
--Settling on a rotation among the young DTs surrounding 337-pound senior linchpin Alameda Ta'amu.
--Solidifying depth at FB behind starter Jonathan Amosa, a converted LB. That might mean more two-TE sets with Seferian-Jenkins and Michael Hartvigson.
--Determining the punter between 2010 surprise fill-in Kiel Rasp and Will Mahan, who had a season-ending injury in practice days after last season's opener.
--And having K Erik Folk back at his all-conference form again this season.
DTs Semisi Tokolahi (broken ankle in last December's Apple Cup) and Sione Potoa'e (knee), plus safeties Stevenson, Justin Glenn and Evan Zeger are being limited early in camp by injuries that Sarkisian said aren't serious.
Want a frigid - and funny -- summer sight? Stick around after the public practices this month to watch the Huskies soak in two, huge, gray tubs of freezing water amid blocks of ice. There's even an ice truck next to it. With 56 of 105 players on the roster from California and Hawaii, that's cold. Ten minutes after he emerged from his ice bath, Jermaine Kearse was trying to talk clearly through chattering teeth. And he's one who should supposedly be used to bone-chilling cold. He's from Lakewood, Wash.
The Huskies practice again Tuesday at 3:15 p.m. at Husky Stadium.