April 1, 2013
By Gregg Bell - UW Director of Writing
SEATTLE - Here comes the latest of Steve Sarkisian's tweaks to keep his Huskies fresh and engaged.
Spring football resumes Tuesday morning on the East Field next to Husky Stadium's renovation. It's the first time under Sarkisian that the fifth-year coach has paused then restarted spring practice.
"You know we always try to tinker with things," he said.
During the first of the spring practices March 5-16, Washington featured a fast-break, no-huddle offense that ran as many as 130 plays in an hour-plus. The players then took field time off for final exams and last week's spring break.
They have returned for UW's spring quarter that began on Monday. Kevin Smith plus former Husky Devin Aguilar.
Shaq Thompson was one of the most far-flung - and certainly unique - Huskies during the time off. The rising sophomore linebacker spent 10 days in Fort Myers, Fla., practicing on the back fields of the Boston Red Sox spring training facility at their minor-league baseball camp. Boston drafted Thompson in the 18th round in 2012 out of Grant High School in Sacramento, Calif. The two-sport teen will be back in Fort Myers playing in the Gulf Coast League this summer prior to UW's fall football camp starting in early August.
For now, Thompson, Price, Johnson, Smith and the Huskies are back for nine more spring practices, on Tuesday and Thursday mornings and Saturdays midday for the next three weeks. The drills end Saturday, April 20 with the annual spring game at 4 p.m. at Seattle Center's Memorial Stadium under the Space Needle on Pac-12 Networks television and here on GoHuskies.com. Public admission is free.
It used to be the Huskies got all of their spring ball done inside April, with a start that was later than other teams in the conference. This time, Sarkisian - who arrived at UW for his first head-coaching job in January 2009 - started in March and installed a break that allowed him and his staff to evaluate and possibly refine what the Dawgs did on the field last month.
"Early on when we went five consecutive weeks of practicing it got drawn out a bit much," Sarkisian said. "Then went we went four weeks in a row with four practices a week, there was really not a day in between (practices to assess and evaluate).
"I know our guys are hungry to get back at it. They took finals, got home, have come back and are ready. In a sense it gives us two separate spring balls. But I know these guys are going to come back hungry and ready to compete."
Washington has more to do over these final nine practices than merely tinker with what it did last month.
Sarkisian will continue to try out aggressive, varied play-calling to score touchdowns once the offense gets inside the 20-yard-line. Last season the Huskies scored 33 TDs on 52 trips into the "red zone," a 64.5-percent success rate.
"We need to get back to playing with confidence down there," the coach said.
The Huskies are hoping Erik Kohler can get back on the field this month for the first time since the two-year starter on the offensive line had his 2012 end prematurely because of recurring knee injuries.
Sarkisian and offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto want to see Kohler, who has started at guard and tackle in his first two UW season, work some at center. The Huskies are seeking a replacement for graduated, 2012 captain Drew Schaefer at the anchor spot along an offensive front that returns four starters. That includes guard Colin Tanigawa, but he is unlikely to practice until August following reconstructive knee surgery last fall.
Sarkisian wants to continuing to develop a pass rush to challenge that offensive line. The Huskies' defense had 27 sacks while UW went 7-6 last season. That sounds decent -- until one considers opponents called 421 pass plays against the Dawgs in 2012.
Sarkisian and second-year defensive coordinator Josh Shirley and Andrew Hudson returning as starters charging in off the edge.
The Huskies also think they can break through this fall, following three consecutive 7-6 seasons and bowl appearances. Break through, that is, toward a Pac-12 North division championship, with what their coach calls the most talented roster of his five years at UW.
The next move toward that potential breakout begins Tuesday morning.
"We're poised for a great run," Sarkisian says. "We have the roster to take that next step."