March 29, 2010
SEATTLE - As Steve Sarkisian sat at the podium on Monday afternoon to detail the upcoming spring football season, there was a noticeable calmness in his voice.
Of course, the second-year coach is still fired up to begin a crucial competition/installment phase of the season, but there isn't the unknown factor that clung to the program like last year. Now, the task at hand for 2010 is simple - master the offense and defensive systems in 15 practices and keep the student-athletes relatively healthy.
During his 30-minute chat with reporters, Sarkisian stressed the importance of maintaining depth from a health standpoint. So spring practices (which begin Tuesday afternoon) will be spaced out with a day off to give the players a chance to recover. But during those practices, Sarkisian hinted at plenty of position battles on the horizon.
"We've got to do our best to maintain a fresh football team, a healthy football team and also maximize our time from a teaching standpoint," Sarkisian said.
This time around, Sarkisian doesn't have to sell the program on his philosophies. It was evident over the course of last season of what Sarkisian was capable of from a schematic and motivational standpoint, where he transformed the Huskies into a fiercely competitive unit that had Seattle buzzing with excitement. Yet Sarkisian lamented Monday that his team left a win or two on the table.
Some noticeable changes with the Huskies are the normal subtractions from the roster that surround any major college football program. There are four early enrollees in school, including three (Victor Burnett, Jesse Callier and Nick Montana) who started spring quarter class today. Sarkisian said the team might tinker with more of a 3-4 (three down linemen and four linebackers) defensive scheme this spring, which suits the personnel on the roster.
The overall theme of spring practice, though, will be competition. This is the bedrock of the program now and Sarkisian is eager to see how his athletes improved after winter conditioning added muscle to their frames. With Chris Polk out this spring because of injury, Sarkisian wondered aloud about how running backs like Johri Fogerson, Demitrius Bronson and freshman Deontae Cooper would fill the gap. It's a similar vein to battles to see who will replace the departed Paul Homer at fullback, how linebacker Cort Dennison will fit in for Donald Butler and whether Chris Izbicki - who Sarkisian said has had an "outstanding" winter - can push for more playing time at the tight end position.
"We want to not only get better as a football team," Sarkisian said, "but better individually in a lot of key areas. We want it to be when these other 25 (recruits) show up in the fall, we have a really strong football team that's healthy, that's energetic and it can create a spirited fall camp."
As for the early enrollees, Sarkisian wants to ease them into their lives as student-athletes. He spoke of their experiences checking into the dorms over the weekend, going to class today and their first practice on Tuesday. To throw anything heavy at them schematically would almost be unfair.
But for the rest of the group, the expectations are certainly higher.
"I think they're high in the outside world and they're high within our locker room," Sarkisian said. "These guys want to achieve greatness. They feel like there were some missed opportunities out there. And there's a lot of belief there. They (student-athletes) believe in our system, they believe in our offseason program and they believe in each other. It's created a very exciting atmosphere."