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Big Position Battles Underway As Sark's Third Spring Season Starts
Release: 03/28/2011
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March 28, 2011

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Spring Football Dates

By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing

SEATTLE - How anxious is Steve Sarkisian to see quarterbacks throwing in spring practice, specifically Keith Price and Nick Montana as they compete to replace Jake Locker?

The Huskies' coach was recently mulling the efficiency of UW's drop-back passing game - while on vacation with his wife Stephanie and their three children.

"I was just watching a show on Bill Walsh while I was on vacation. And to listen to him talk about the West Coast passing game and what it meant when that era of the San Francisco 49ers was really going and the fluidness of that, I thought to myself, 'We're lacking in that. We don't have that efficiency right now, that precision,'" a tanned Sarkisian said Monday, one day before his third set of spring practices as Washington's coach begins.

"So that's going to be the goal for us this spring."

How did his family react to Dad's football mind working while supposedly "off" from the game for one of the only times all year?

"That's entertainment to me," Sarkisian said with a sheepish smile. "I think we all have to do things that put us in a frame of mind that is relaxing. That is where I get it from."

Who will be throwing most this season is questions 1, 1A and 1B right now for the Huskies, who are three months removed a Holiday Bowl victory over Nebraska - their first bowl game in eight years.

For the first time since Locker's redshirt came off to begin 2007, UW doesn't know who will be playing what Sarkisian calls "the most important position in sports."

Price, a 6-foot-1, 192-pound redshirt sophomore from Compton, Calif., has game experience. He started last Nov. 6 at Oregon, when Locker was out with a broken rib. Price also got mop-up duty last season in a win over Syracuse and in losses to Arizona and Stanford. And he had a one-drive cameo in the victory at USC in October, when he replaced a briefly dazed Locker and threw a key, 3-yard touchdown pass.

Montana has the pedigree, plus prototypical size. The son of Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana redshirted last season while making every road trip with the team, just as Locker did while redshirting his first year at Washington in 2006. Montana is 6-3, 191 pounds from Thousand Oaks, Calif., and Oaks Christian High School, and given his lineage he's been groomed basically since childhood for this chance that begins Tuesday.

Sarkisian is in no rush to decide who will start this season. He said the competition could last into September, which means up to the Sept. 3 opener against Eastern Washington.

"I'm not going to rush to judgment to name a starter for the sake of naming a starter," the coach and former star quarterback at BYU said. "But I also don't plan on going into the season platooning quarterbacks, either. We're going to take our time. We're going to allow these two kids to grow and evolve at the position, go through some ups and downs."

Sarkisian laid out the criteria for the quarterback competition that will go on throughout the 15 spring practices.

"Take care of the football, one. And part of that comes from understanding of the offense. Two, decision making, especially at critical moments. And, three, your ability to not force the football and to throw the ball away," the coach said.

"It's protecting the ball, their ability to move the football, especially in the critical moments late in games, late in two-minute drills. And then ... their effectiveness to manage the team, to be that coach on the field, to have the presence that's needed."

Fans can see the quarterback competition for themselves, as all spring practices are again open to the public at Husky Stadium. They will begin on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at 4:00 plus Saturday mornings at 11, this week through the annual spring game on April 30 (Saturday, April 16, practice begins at 1:00 p.m.).

Price or Montana won't be the only new, young Huskies on offense. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, a mammoth tight end out of Gig Harbor, Wash., and one of the nation's top recruits at his position through signing day last month, has enrolled early and was in his first UW class on Monday. Sarkisian said the 6-foot-6, 250-pound freshman will be on the starting offense during Tuesday's first practice, at a position that is one of the Huskies' highest priorities to upgrade.

Seferian-Jenkins will be competing for time with 6-2, 215-pound sophomore Marlion Barnett, who caught four passes last season, and 6-6, 246-pound Michael Hartvigson, who redshirted as a freshman last season following a shoulder injury.

Defensively, the biggest focus in the spring and in fall practice will be finding outside linebackers to replace departed, fiendish playmakers Mason Foster and Victor Aiyewa. Freshman John Timu, who injured his knee his senior season and enrolled late, will get a long look. So will redshirt freshman Jamaal Kearse, sophomores Garret Gilliland and Thomas Tutogi and junior Jordan Wallace. The lone experienced starter returning there is senior-to-be middle linebacker Cort Dennison, one of the team's leaders.

Sarkisian has other priorities in spring practice, beyond finding a quarterback and linebackers:

• Establishing the physicality on both sides of the ball that marked UW's four-game winning streak at the end of last season. Sarkisian believes having practices every other day each week will allow for pounding workouts, especially after full pads come on for the first time April 5.

• Raising what the coach calls the team's "football IQ," its awareness of special situations during games and doing the right things to succeed in those critical moments.

• Improving the team's turnover ratio that was even - 17 gained, 17 lost - in 13 games last season. That will mean an emphasis on Price and Montana taking care of the ball on offense, and the defense creating more fumbles and interceptions. "Our turnover ratio is not where we need to be to be an elite team in this conference or in this country," Sarkisian said.

• Putting more pressure on opposing passers. Sarkisian is eager to see the progress of Holiday Bowl-hero Hau'oli Jamora, now a sophomore defensive end, 330-pound senior defensive tackle Alameda Ta'amu and redshirt freshman outside linebacker Josh Shirley.

• Getting better starting field position on kickoff and punt returns, and better stops in kick coverage.

A handful of Huskies will be limited in spring drills by injuries. The most prominent of those is defensive tackle Semisi Tokolahi, a late-season key who is still recovering from a broken ankle sustained in December's Apple Cup. Offensive lineman Nick Wood (hip surgery) and defensive back Adam Long (knee surgery) will also miss spring drills.

Cornerback Greg Ducre, safeties Sean Parker and Taz Stevenson, linebackers Princeton Fuimaono and Cooper Pelluer, defensive end Talia Crichton, defensive tackle Chris Robinson, running back Deontae Cooper, punter Will Mahan and left tackle Senio Kelemete will all be limited from contact by various injuries but are expected to be healthy for full fall participation.

Sarkisian announced Kalani Aldrich, who finished his junior season at defensive end last year, and sophomore offensive lineman Mykenna Ikehara "are no longer able to perform physically" and are no longer on the team, though they are still on scholarship and on pace to earn their degrees.

"Can't believe football is in the air again," Sarkisian said, eight days after the Huskies' men's basketball team ended its season in the NCAA tournament.

"Here we go."

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