Sarkisian's 4th Spring Practice At UW His Freshest
March 30, 2012
By Gregg Bell
SEATTLE - He completely tore down then rebuilt his defensive coaching staff. The same thing is happening to his stadium.
To get his players as healthy as possible, he pushed the start of spring practice back to a week past his Huskies' return from spring break. That means Monday's first spring drills will come more than three months since Washington was last on a field, in the Alamo Bowl shootout against Baylor.
He's changed practice times from afternoon to early morning, to get those more in line with the players' body clocks from offseason conditioning workouts.
So excuse Steve Sarkisian for being more than a tad anxious to start seeing what all of his changes may mean for the 2012 season.
"Obviously a lot has transpired here in the last few months," Sarkisian deadpanned Friday, on the eve of starting his fourth and freshest spring practice as the Huskies' head man.
"We are starting at ground zero on the defensive side of the ball... We have to teach every aspect from it, from stance and start and alignment and assignment.
"There's new stuff going on. The field. The time. The new coaches. There's plenty of newness in this thing that makes it feel fresh, makes it feel alive. There's a bit of excitement in the air -- but yet, a little bit of anxiety in the air, quite honestly. I think guys are anxious to get on the field and get going. They want to prove to their new coaches that they can play."
Spring practices will be closed to the public on the East Field because of space limitations. The drills will go on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings for the next four weeks immediately next to Husky Stadium's renovations.
The two spring practices open to the public will be on Saturdays: 11 a.m. on April 21 at Memorial Stadium at Seattle Center downtown; and 1 p.m. on April 28 for spring game at CenturyLink Field, the Huskies' temporary home for the 2012 season.
"Is it ideal for me to close practice? No. I think spring football is a great opportunity for fans to be part of Husky Football and to be out and have that excitement in the air," Sarkisian said. "Fortunately, but unfortunately, we're a little bit limited from a field-space standpoint with the renovation to Husky Stadium, which is going awesome -- it's unbelievable how much they've been able to get done in such a short amount of time.
"But when you get on the East Field when we practice over there, and there's just not a lot of room. The last thing I want to be doing is telling people to get back, stay back, and not coaching our guys."
Sarkisian said "I can't believe this is Year Four now" since he arrived from being USC's Rose Bowl-winning offensive coordinator. He's led UW back from 0-12 just before he arrived in January 2009, to two consecutive seven-win years and two bowl games over his first three seasons as a head coach.
But Monday will be his first practice with a staff other than the one he had remarkably kept intact for three years.
Justin Wilcox is the new defensive coordinator in from Tennessee. Eric Keisau came from California in January to be the Huskies' new offensive coordinator, when Doug Nussmeier left to call plays for national-champion Alabama. Tosh Lupoi is in from Cal as the new defensive line coach and recruiting whiz. Peter Sirmon came with Wilcox from Tennessee to be the new linebackers coach. Keith Heyward is the new defensive backs coach from Oregon State.
"I'm excited," said Sarkisian, who had his 38th birthday three weeks ago. "Shoot, I've got five new coaches I get to work with that I haven't been on the field with before. For me, this is kind of refreshing in a sense that I've still got to coach, yet I want to learn.
"So it's a big spring on a lot of fronts that way, because I want to make sure when we come back in fall camp that we're really a well-oiled machine when we hit that field come August."
The most important part to that machine that put up 56 points in the Alamo Bowl is back.
And he's stronger.
Quarterback Keith Price, who tied a 92-year-old school record with seven combined touchdowns in the highest-scoring, regulation bowl game ever three months ago, enters his redshirt junior season having taken full advantage of intense, offseason rehabilitation. The knees he sprained three times in 2011, a previously sprained ankle and an injured, non-throwing shoulder are far stronger.
The question that hovered over the Huskies entering spring ball 12 months ago - how well will the quarterback perform with Jake Locker gone to the NFL? - is now the biggest positive to Washington's rising program.
"Yes, it is reassuring. It's always great to have your quarterback back," said Sarkisian, who starred at the position at Brigham Young. "It's the most important position in sports. And we are lucky to have a really good one back for us."
Yet Price may get less time than No.-2 quarterback Derrick Brown during April. Sarkisian and Keisau want to see what they have in Brown, a hulking 6-foot-3, 230-pound redshirt freshman. This is Brown's chance, before highly touted recruits Jeff Lindquist and Cyler Miles arrive as freshman quarterbacks in August.
Price and Brown, Washington's only two scholarship QBs right now, will run spring practices behind an offensive line that will have four fill-in first teamers as starters recover from aches and injuries.
"I wish we were, quite honestly, a little bit more healthy than we are coming into spring ball," Sarkisian said.
Starting tackle Erik Kohler is going to be limited with "some nagging off-season stuff from the grind of playing an entire season," Sarkisian said. Guard Colin Porter had both shoulders operated on this winter. The Huskies are hoping to get the 300-pound junior and two-year starter back in time for the Sept. 1 opener against San Diego State. The other starting guard, rising redshirt sophomore Colin Tanigawa, is coming off knee surgery from last season and will also be out.
That leaves senior center Drew Schaefer as the only starting offensive lineman available. To start with, Micah Hatchie will be the first-team left tackle in April. Dexter Charles is the left guard. James Atoe is at right guard. Ben Riva is the right tackle.
The glass-half-full thought is that the offensive line will be deeper and more versatile come September, thanks to these 15 spring practices.
Same is true for the defensive line.
Starting end Hauoli Jamora will be limited while still recovering from a knee injury. Defensive tackle Semisi Tokolahi is out after offseason foot surgery. Safety Travis Feeney had shoulder surgery at the end of last season and will be wearing a red, "no-contact" jersey. So will fellow safety James Sample, who had shoulder surgery late last year.
Junior linebacker Cooper Pelluer will get snaps as a blocking "H-back" and fullback now that Tim Tucker has been dismissed from the team for what the coach termed a violation of team rules. Pelluer will also be limited as he comes back from shoulder injury.
Running back Deontae Cooper, who has been resilient despite season-ending knee surgeries in each of his first two years at Washington, is back doing running drills but will not practice fully. And wide receiver Kevin Smith is still out indefinitely from a knee injury he sustained in practice days before the Alamo Bowl.
"A lot of guys nicked up, a lot of guys out that have experience for us," Sarkisian said. "There's always two ways of looking at that. One is that those guys aren't getting the reps that they'd normally be getting from a spring football perspective. But it leads to great opportunities for a lot of younger guys on our roster that are deserving of that.
"Hopefully when fall camp rolls around, the added reps they get in spring -- with the addition of these guys coming back off their injuries -- should make for a very deep football team, probably the deepest football team that we've had."
They are deep. They are new. And they are fast, especially on the outside on defense and on offense, with Jesse Callier getting first crack as the lead running back now Chris Polk is preparing for the NFL draft.
"This team is probably athletically one of our, if not our most, athletic team at a lot of our skill positions," Sarkisian said.
Yet the crux of this Huskies team still needs to form, the physicality that has been UW's key to playing in the Holiday and Alamo Bowls the last two seasons.
Sarkisian and his new staff will finally begin installing that on a field next week.
"Oh, I'm pumped. I can't wait. I wish we went today. I can't believe I have (to wait) a Saturday and Sunday," he said, characteristically stoked.
"There's a lot to prove on people's minds right now in our building, as far as coaches. Coaches to coaches. Coaches to me. Me to our players. Our players to each other. There's a lot of I want to go out and show who we are and what we're about.
"That's a great feeling to have."