March 1, 2013
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - A new emphasis on the no-huddle offense. Keith Price with rested, stronger legs. The return of Marques Tuiasosopo equaling a return to the roots of Steve Sarkisian's - and Price's -- offense at UW.
Those are what the Huskies' coach sees as the most notable aspects of his fifth spring practice at Washington. It begins Tuesday on the East Field next to the ongoing renovation of Husky Stadium, just over five months before the debut game at the $250 million jewel.
The overarching goal is unchanged, but Sarkisian believes it is more attainable this year with 17 starters returning to what he sees as his most athletically gifted Huskies team.
Weeks ago he signed a recruiting class rated among the nation's 15 best. When those freshmen arrive in August they will be joining one of just three Pac-12 teams to play in bowls in each of the last three seasons.
"There is a reason five years ago I took this job, and that is to win championships. That's the focus ... this season," Sarkisian said.
We aren't going into this ho-hum. We are going into it to win a championship.
"We aren't going into this ho-hum. We are going into it to win a championship."
This is the earliest the Huskies have started spring ball under Sarkisian. They will practice for three days each for two weeks before final exams and UW's spring break this month, then return April 2 for three more weeks with three practices each. The annual spring game is April 20 at Memorial Stadium under Seattle's Space Needle.
"You know, we always try to tinker with things," Sarkisian said.
He and his staff will determine in the weeks ahead how many players will be available for the spring game, and whether to have a full, game-like scrimmage or a modified one as in previous years for the Pac-12 Networks national television audience that Saturday afternoon.
The earlier spring start then two-week pause is something Sarkisian has never done, not even while as an assistant under Pete Carroll at USC for most of the 2000s. He thinks it serves multiple purposes for a 2013 team that is returning nine starters on offense and eight on defense from December's MAACO Las Vegas Bowl.
"For one, it allows us to do some things here the first couple weeks and then take a couple weeks and really evaluate them," Sarkisian said. "Number two, so many times in spring practices you get guys nicked up with sprained ankles or strained hamstrings and guys are lost for all of the spring. Now, we may be able to get those guys back before the spring game.
"The third thing is, this allows us to get out on the road earlier in spring recruiting."
Price, for one, loves the earlier start. The fifth-year senior in 2013 spent much of January resting his legs and knees that have been sore and sprained throughout the last two seasons. He spent February attacking leg weights more like he did before the 2011 season, the one in which he created dynamic, improvisational plays and set UW records with 33 touchdown passes and a 66.9 percent completion rate.
"I'm excited. I can't wait," Price said. "I'm ready to go right now.
"It's just crazy how fast it's gone by, how it's my last year. My last go `round."
His last roundup has a familiar ring leader. Sarkisian hired back Tuiasosopo last month from UCLA in January. The Huskies' last Rose Bowl quarterback, in 2001, was an assistant strength coach who sponged the installation of UW's offense by Sarkisian and then-coordinator and quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier in 2009.
Price was a redshirting backup to Jake Locker then.
Tuiasosopo was a quarterback under Sarkisian when Sark coached the position in 2004 with the Oakland Raiders. So next week will begin Tui's third stint working within Sarkisian's offense.
"He knows the system so well he kind of reminds me of Coach `Nuss,'" Price said, relating Tuiasosopo to Nussmeier, who last year left to call plays for what became national-champion Alabama. "Their coaching styles are similar. Obviously, he was around Nuss and able to see how he coached quarterbacks and the terminology he used.
"It's great for me."
We wanted to get that explosiveness back that he had (in 2011). That's when he's at his best, exploding from the backfield and making plays.
That wasn't entirely Sarkisian's idea in bringing back Tuiasosopo. He notes the first thing Tui said last month upon meeting Price and fellow QBs Cyler Miles, Derrick Brown, Jeff Lindquist, and Troy Williams - an All-Los Angeles City Section passer and runner who enrolled in January - was: "What a group."
If Price is more comfortable with Tuiasosopo back tutoring him, that's a plus for the entire offense.
"One thing definitely Marques brings is a lot of familiarity. He was in the meetings when the offense was being installed," Sarkisian said. "He was on the headsets hearing Coach Nussmeier during games. He was there when we set a lot of the formations, a lot of the basic fundamentals.
"That was as much in (the hiring) as anything, the trust in the system. If this means we are in the beginning stages of Keith being comfortable, that's tremendous."
Sarkisian said he and strength coach Ivan Lewis went back to a weight-training schedule for Price they used two offseasons ago. Last winter and spring Price backed off lifting leg weights to rest his lower half. But that led to a relative lack of strength and durability in his legs.
"We wanted to get that explosiveness back that he had (in 2011)," Sarkisian said. "That's when he's at his best, exploding from the backfield and making plays."
Asked what will be most noticeably new in spring practices, Sarkisian said Price and the quarterbacks will be running far more no-huddle plays than last season. He found the 2012 offense worked most effectively without huddling. But the Huskies only had a limited amount of plays in that mode, and didn't practice in it much.
After they had weeks to work on it in December before the bowl game, the Dawgs used the no-huddle to rally before the last-second, 28-26 loss to 20th-ranked Boise State in Las Vegas.
"We want to see what we are able to do with more of the no-huddle," Sarkisian said.
Having a more consistently formed pocket for a less harried Price would also help.
The offensive line loses only graduated starting center Drew Schaefer. Starting guard-tackle Erik Kohler won't be available until the second half of spring, Sarkisian said. Kohler had his 2012 end prematurely because of recurring knee injuries.
Colin Tanigawa, the starting left guard, missed all of last season following reconstructive knee surgery. He isn't likely to practice until preseason camp in August, if then.
Defensively, one of Sarkisian's other priorities in spring ball is to improve the pass rush beyond the 27 sacks Washington got in 13 games last season.
Andrew Hudson and Josh Shirley helped establish themselves as outside pass rushers in first-year coordinator Justin Wilcox's defense during the 2012 spring game. That was played under modified rules, because injuries limited Sarkisian from fielding two full teams for a more customary "game."
Given offseason surgeries and last year's major injuries -- such as Kohler's and Tanigawa's plus the torn knee ligaments of running backs Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper, Sarkisian isn't sure if he'll have enough players for a full spring game this April, either.
Those Huskies who are available are ready for this far-earlier start to spring practice, though.
"I know our guys are hungry to get going. In a sense, this gives us two separate spring practices," Sarkisian said. "After that break, I know these guys are going to come back refreshed, hungry and ready to compete."