Aug. 11, 2009
By TIM BOOTH
AP SPORTS WRITER
SEATTLE -- At the open end of Husky Stadium, a kiosk selling school merchandise sat next to the local sports radio station broadcasting live, all while a couple hundred fans wearing purple and gold milled around the track and practice fields.
With practices open to the public and media, Sarkisian and the Huskies got started on trying to forget last year's 0-12 debacle and rebuild the once proud program.
For the first-time head coach, hired away from Southern California last December, it was the 16th practice he has led with the Huskies. Sarkisian doesn't have long to analyze and evaluate a what he has. The Sept. 5 opener with LSU is looming and daunting.
"It was a lot better than our day one in spring," Sarkisian said. "Just from an execution standpoint we were playing faster. You could tell our kids had studied and prepared all offseason. Was it perfect? No. But we did things really, really well that jumped out at me."
Willingham closed almost all his practices to fans and allowed only a few minutes of access to the media. Sarkisian is the opposite, bringing many of the same policies from USC. He's opened up the entire fall camp to anyone who wants to come see if he can turnaround the program that hasn't been to a bowl game since 2002.
Monday's cool and drizzly weather brought out only a small crowd to see the high-intensity practice that lasted about 2 1/2 hours. Coaches even had to chastise some of the defensive players for being a little too intense. They were taking their teammates to the turf, even though they were wearing only helmets and shorts.
"Maybe guys had a little too much tempo today taking guys down," quarterback Jake Locker said. "It's a quick practice, it's fast, guys are moving fast and I thought it was productive for us."
That kind of intensity is a welcome sight for many fans who grew tired of Willingham's stoic demeanor and the reserved attitude his team portrayed. Part of the decision in hiring Sarkisian was reversing that view and trying to bring more excitement to the program.
Locker had his sharp moments, but also showed some rough spots as he learns the nuances of the pro-style system Sarkisian will employ. The junior is fully recovered from the broken thumb that cost him most of last season and trying to pick up where he left off in the spring with the new offense.
"Just making sure to where you're not thinking. That's the challenge with any offense your learning," Locker said. "There's still a little thinking going on so over the next three weeks it will work itself out."
He also found himself a possible new target in freshman James Johnson. One of the gems in Sarkisian's first recruiting class, the 6-foot receiver from Valley Center, Calif. was already running with the No. 1 offense on the first day.
"You look at our wide receiver play today, there were some guys hungry to get the football," Sarkisian said. "A lot of guys made plays. ... I'm anxious to look at this film because I think you're going to see a lot of guys doing well, but there is still a lot of work to clean up."