Sept. 1, 2009
By TIM BOOTH
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE -- Since last December, Steve Sarkisian's main task was resurrecting some confidence at lowly Washington and changing attitudes within the once proud program.
Now it's finally time to see how Sarkisian does as a head coach, with No. 11 LSU coming to town on Saturday night for a nationally televised season opener that has Husky fans brimming with optimism surrounding a football team that hasn't won a game since November 2007.
Do those fans expect an upset of the Tigers? Not really. But they do expect a different look from a year ago when the Huskies trudged through the first winless season in school history.
"It hasn't been all about the physical nature of play," Sarkisian said Monday. "It's been about changing the mindset, the culture, the way we think, the way we act, the way we talk, the way we walk. And it's been fun to watch this progression happen."
While attitudes are different than under previous head coach Tyrone Willingham, there remain huge questions about how the Huskies will look on the field come Saturday night, directed by a 35-year-old who has never been a head coach at any level of the game.
For one thing, Sarkisian isn't hesitating about using some of his younger players.
When the first official depth chart of the fall was released on Monday, true freshmen James Johnson (wide receiver) and Desmond Trufant (cornerback) were listed as possible starters against the Tigers. Another handful of true freshmen are listed on the depth chart, highlighting the relative lack of depth in the Huskies program when Sarkisian arrived.
Using freshmen is a trait Sarkisian brought along from USC - the best players, no matter their age or experience, are going to be on the field.
"From where I was raised for the last seven, eight years, that's what we did. The best players played - if he was a true freshman, he was a true freshman," Sarkisian said. "You put him in situations leading up to that point to get him prepared for that moment. A lot of these guys, they're not going to play every snap, but when they're out there, we're going to put them out there to do things they do well so they can get some success, and build more confidence."
Along with the freshmen being expected to play early, the Huskies also revealed a reshuffled offensive line, much to the surprise of the linemen themselves. After spending most of the fall camp at left guard, Ben Ossai was moved back to his former position of left tackle. That moved Cody Habben from left tackle to right tackle, a move he was surprised about when told on Monday morning. Greg Christine will start at right guard, but like many positions, Sarkisian said nearly every spot is an open, ongoing competition.
"You're going to see a lot of guys play for us in this ball game," Sarkisian said. "You're not going to see us keep putting the same 11 guys out there snap after snap."
That offensive line will be trying to give quarterback Jake Locker a chance to show off in more of a pro-style offensive system, versus the hybrid spread offense that the Huskies used a year ago.
It'll also be Locker's first time on the field since last September when he broke the thumb on his throwing hand trying to be a lead blocker on a reverse. The injury was just one of the lowlights in Washington's 2008 season, something the coaching staff has avoided dwelling on during the transition Sarkisian is leading.
"One of the things coach has told us, is the past is the past, and you can't do anything about it," Locker said. "I don't know if it's up to us to prove that we are not last year's team, but to show we are a new team, that there is a new attitude and a new way we do things around here."