April 9, 2011
By Gregg Bell
UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Steve Sarkisian was yelling, hurrying and forcing a sense of "chaos," as the coach later described it.
Coordinator Nick Holt's defense was swarming, putting Huskies quarterbacks under siege throughout Saturday's latest spring practice. Sarkisian wanted a faster pace, throwing guys out of the offensive huddle for not moving fast enough.
And Keith Price was smiling.
No matter what's going on around him - be it April while facing teammates in a controlled scrimmage inside Husky Stadium, all preseason competing with Nick Montana to replace Jake Locker, or November in Eugene, Ore., making his first career start against the No. 1 team in the country - Washington's gregarious sophomore quarterback grins like each day is his birthday.
"How's it goin'?" Price asked while greeting visitors following Saturday's practice - and, of course, smiling.
The defensive line largely manhandled the offense in a performance Sarkisian called sloppy. Yet when asked how it went out there, the sunny-side-always-up Price beamed again and said, "It was all right. We started off shaky, but it was all right."
Everything always seems all right with Price.
He won team-wide respect for the way he stayed cool - and even smiled - while Oregon chased him ferociously around Autzen Stadium in that start last fall, when Locker had a broken rib. And for when he rushed in to replace a momentarily dazed Locker in October at USC. Then, before 83,000 people at the Los Angeles Coliseum and a national-television audience, Price threw a key touchdown pass in the fourth quarter of UW's eventual, last-play win.
So if all that didn't faze him as a redshirt freshman, this pleasantly mannered, strong-armed and quick-footed thrower from Compton, Calif., isn't going to be affected by this quarterback "competition." Sarkisian has said he may not decide on a starting quarterback until September.
"Competition" is everyone else's word for It, by the way. Each passer says it's not really a competition right now to him.
Price says it really doesn't matter to him that Montana took the snaps with the first-team offense to end Saturday's practice, after Price took Thursday's final snaps and after each thrower alternated time with the 1s earlier Saturday.
Given Price's consistently positive disposition, you believe him.
"Nah, I don't worry about that, at all. We're all on the same team," Price said, laughing because he doesn't have it in him to scoff. "We get equal repetitions. I get the 1s one day, he gets the 1s another day.
"Oh, we work together. I don't see me above him, and I don't see him above me. I think we don't even look at it like that. If he sees something on the field I didn't see, he'll like me know. And vice versa. We're not selfish."
Montana echoed that.
"He's a great quarterback. He helps me every day," Montana said. "It (this "competition") is not like everyone makes it out to be."
Price was 5 for 7 by unofficial count throwing in the final team session Saturday, when he ran both the first- and second-team offense. He showed some of his value by escaping a sack and completing a pass to Cody Bruns.
Montana, with his mother and his Hall-of-Fame quarterback Joe again watching from the stands, was unofficially 5 for 9 in the final scrimmage period, which featured the running game more than downfield throws. The redshirt freshman led the offense on a scoring drive.
So it goes, both passers taking turns each day running the starting offense as Sarkisian learns what each can or can't do, and how well both handle whatever pressure the third-year coach can create five months before the opener against Eastern Washington.
"I think they've both made steady climbs and improved," Sarkisian said, adding Price and Montana had some mental mistakes in Saturday's sixth practice of the spring. "They are both doing some really good things, especially taking care of the football, which is one of the big keys at that position."
Another really good thing Price and Montana have done so far this month is use UW's newest offensive weapon: The previously long-lost tight end. The arrival of freshman Austin Seferian-Jenkins, an early enrollee from Gig Harbor, Wash., and the return of Michael Hartvigson, another 6-foot-6 target who had a shoulder injury end his freshman season after four games last year, is adding a key element to Sarkisian's system - one that had been lacking for the coach's first two years at Washington.
Saturday, Price found Hartvigson outside for a completion that was called back when the visiting Pac-10 officials flagged the offense for holding.
Montana threw the ball down the right hashmark to a covered Seferian-Jenkins, and the freshman simply jumped over two defenders to make the catch for a big gain.
"He's ridiculous," Montana said. "He makes great catches. It's hard to throw a bad pass to him."
Sarkisian said the tight end can be even more valuable this fall to these Huskies. An inexperienced quarterback playing in Seattle's wind and rain no longer has to make risky and potentially damaging throws outside to make plays. The coach calls having a huge, dynamic target in the middle of the field "a quarterback's best friend."
"It's really unique. It showed up again today. Those guys are making their plays," Sarkisian said of the tight ends. "It's making us a more complete offense.
"We are still figuring out who we are as an offense, and what we can do at the position. It's showing up, and it's showing up very well. It's been an emphasis for us, it's been a focus for us. And they continue to make plays."