Aug. 5, 2010
SEATTLE - The 2010 football season at Washington hasn't even started, but already there's a different tenor to the program. As head coach Steve Sarkisian confidently suggested Thursday afternoon at his kickoff press conference in the Founders Club, this year wouldn't be about hoping to compete.
There's now a hard-line expectation to win.
In the span of almost 50 minutes with the local media, Sarkisian broke down the roster on both sides of the ball, sketched out a depth chart, and repeated his compliments towards the work strength coach Ivan Lewis and his staff have done to prepare the squad for the upcoming season. Sarkisian noted how not only his student-athletes are stronger, but they're going to be able to generate more explosion. As the coach reiterated, the modern college football game is based on speed and movement, and now the Huskies are physically able to match their opponents.
"We look like a really good football team now. I don't know if I could say that a year ago," Sarkisian said. "But today, as I start to bump into our players and see them and visit with them, not only our returners but our freshmen too, we are a better looking team than we were this year at this time."
Most importantly, Sarkisian is simply fired up to begin working with his team after a long summer of recruiting. A large part of the excitement is based on how strong the Huskies closed out last season, outscoring Washington State and Cal a combined 72-10. Fall camp begins on Monday, Aug. 9, and the Huskies have less than a month to hone themselves into the type of unit capable of pulling a win out of LaVell Edwards Stadium on Sept. 4. Of the 22 practice days, there are just six two-a-days, designed to keep the student-athletes fresh heading into BYU.
The Huskies enter camp almost completely healthy, save for a limited Justin Glenn, as the safety is still recovering from last season's broken leg suffered at Notre Dame. But the other question marks, such as TB Chris Polk, along with defensive ends Kalani Aldrich and Everrette Thompson, are able to practice full speed, although the latter two will be monitored.
On offense, the Huskies showcase as much depth as anyone in the Pac-10 Conference. Quarterback Jake Locker returns after a media-intensive summer to lead an offensive unit that is stocked deep at the skill positions. Sarkisian's goals for the senior are lofty: between a 65-68 percent completion percentage and a 3-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio. But those are attainable marks, considering the receiving corps Locker has surrounding him. Sark lauded the offseason work in particular of WR James Johnson, who comes into camp at a chiseled 201 pounds. A healthy Polk, who's coming off a 1,113-yard season, provides the Huskies with one of the conference's best run-game threats. Tight end Chris Izbicki was named the most-improved coming out of spring ball.
The options for Locker are seemingly endless, and should give the team ample ammunition to play in the tough environs of the Pac-10.
"When you get into those environments, you always want to have a veteran trigger man back there who has been in those settings and can remain calm in the most tense and stressful moments," Sarkisian said. "Having Jake [Locker] back for his senior year is obviously critical."
Defensively, the Huskies used their latest recruiting class to accumulate talent at each position. The defensive backfield struggled with injuries last year, but freshmen additions such as Sean Parker and Taz Stevenson at the safety spot brought an infusion of elite talent. Nate Williams remains the lynchpin of the coverage unit, a player Sarkisian lauded as the most knowledgeable of any defender on the team.
The focal point, though, remains linebacker Mason Foster, a returning senior with the type of skills capable of being one of the best in the Pac-10.
A newsworthy note to come out of the press conference was the announcement that DB John Timu and DE Brent Williams will gray shirt this fall, meaning they will delay their entrance to UW. For right now, there are no concrete plans for any of the other incoming freshmen to necessarily redshirt. They'll each have an opportunity to earn playing time.
Remember, a Sarkisian-run camp centers on competition. And with more and more of his recruits filtering into the program, the team has begun to fully embrace his mantra. This also means the team isn't just playing for the respect of the opponent, as was the case last year coming off a 0-12 season. The goal is to be in the mix for championships. In Sarkisian's eyes, the Huskies did everything right this spring and summer to get prepared for this moment.
"We are going to play better football. We are a deeper football team," Sarkisian said. "We're more athletic. We'll be more physical and execute better. We're just all anxious to get started."