April 29, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Saturday's annual spring game may feature more than just the Huskies' offense against defense.
Coach Steve Sarkisian said Friday evening "it's been pretty clear now for a little over a week" who he wants as his starting quarterback entering the fall -- and that he may make the announcement on his choice between sophomore Keith Price and Nick Montana following Saturday's 11 a.m. game that will close UW's spring practice.
We will have a live game chat here on GoHuskies.com from Husky Stadium. The spring game can also be heard in and around Seattle on KJR 950 AM.
"I think I know what I want to do. I'm just kind of letting it resonate with myself and see what it feels like," Sarkisian said of Washington's first starting quarterback change since four-year starter Jake Locker took over as a redshirt freshman before the 2007 season.
Sarkisian said there's something to "giving our team an idea of an identity of who we want to become and who that guy is" heading into the summer.
Sarkisian said that minutes before Mason Foster, his Pac-10 tackling leader last season, was drafted in the third round by the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That's the same round Foster's mentor, former UW linebacker Donald Butler, went to the San Diego Chargers last spring - and that late Huskies linebacker Marquis Cooper went to the Bucs in 2004.
"Proud of you Mason, you deserve it," Sarkisian tweeted Friday night. Foster led the Pac-10 in tackles in both 2008 and 2010 and earned All-America honors as a senior last fall.
As for the current Huskies, Price started last November at No. 1 Oregon when Locker had a broken rib and was impressive with his poise and smiles amid a ferocious Ducks pass rush. In October, Price threw a clutch touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of the win at USC while Locker was momentarily woozy and sidelined.
The 6-foot-1, 192-pound Price, from Compton, Calif., was particularly sharp last weekend in a full scrimmage. He threw two touchdown passes, and Sarkisian praised him for stepping up in the pocket - a focus for UW this spring.
Price split first-team snaps with Montana throughout the 14 spring practices from March 29 through Friday's 70-minute indoor session without pads. The son of Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana redshirted his first season at UW last fall. Like Locker did while redshirting in 2006, Montana went on all the Huskies' road trips in 2010. This spring, he impressed coaches and himself with his rapid growth in understanding the offense.
Finding a replacement for Locker, Washington's record-setting quarterback drafted eighth overall by the NFL's Tennessee Titans on Thursday, is the biggest accomplishment of Sarkisian's third spring practice as Washington's coach. Last month, the coach estimated he might not make an announcement on the starting QB until perhaps days before the Sept. 3 opener against Eastern Washington.
Then Sarkisian had another of his regular talks this week with Pete Carroll, his mentor and former boss at USC who is now the coach of the Seattle Seahawks. Sarkisian has warmed to the value of the Huskies knowing who their offensive leader will be during the three-plus months between Saturday and the start of preseason practice in August.
"There might be something to that, to be able to go into summer with a guy that can kind of lead the offseason throwing and things of that nature," Sarkisian said. "I'm going to kind of sleep on it and see how it feels (Saturday).
"Either way we do it, the competition's going to rage on. The guys are going to battle throughout fall camp. Whoever I name, the other guy has got to continually push the other guy. He's got to make him better, because if he doesn't, he's going to pass him."
Quarterback isn't the only position where a job is open entering Saturday's game between the purple and the white. It will have four, 15-minute quarters with a running clock but will otherwise have the look of a real game between the first and second-team offenses and defenses. There will be officials, penalties and special-teams plays, albeit the kickoff and punt returns will not have all-out tackling in an attempt to avoid injuries.
The Huskies are still solidifying their offensive line. On defense, they are still searching for outside linebackers to replace Foster and Victor Aiyewa, who hoped to be selected later in this weekend's NFL draft.
They may have found two. John Timu, who enrolled in January after missing last season with an injury, has been impressive with the first-team defense this month. And redshirt freshman Josh Shirley has often been unstoppable charging off the end.
The coach also liked how cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Quinton Richardson defended in press coverage, plus how ends Hau'oli Jamora, who pushed around Nebraska's offensive line in December's Holiday Bowl win, and Everrette Thompson got penetration from along the defensive line this spring.
"I love what's happening with our edge pass rushers right now," Sarkisian said.
This spring also validated why UW was so excited to have signed heralded tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Gig Harbor High School in February. The 6-6, 251-pound pass magnet enrolled early, one day before the first spring practice. He immediately caught seemingly every one of Price's and Montana's many throws to him between the hash marks, whether he was covered or not.
Thanks to that, Sarkisian is as close to having his preferred, pro-style offense as he's been since arriving at UW in January 2009.
"It just feels good again to be calling personnel groupings that involve the tight end and multiple tight-end sets," the coach said, "and (to have) our ability to run the ball and throw the ball out of those personnel groupings."