What should help is the return of all but one significant player on the offensive line from a year ago, four-year starting tackle/guard Ben Ossai. What also helps is the experience those players have in their second year in Sarkisian's offense.

When the Washington Huskies memorably lost at Notre Dame in overtime last October, much of the postgame analysis centered on a few play calls near the goal line. Specifically, a fourth-and-goal quarterback sneak from the one that didn’t get in.

But while many fans questioned some of those calls, the Huskies are taking a different approach to it this spring — trying to improve enough up front so it doesn’t matter what is called next time.

Offensive line coach Dan Cozzetto, in fact, has already laid down the challenge to his troops.

“Coach Cozzetto said ‘when it’s fourth-and-one at Notre Dame, I’m calling quarterback sneak again, except this time, we are getting it in,’ “said senior backup center Greg Christine. “It’s just getting that mindset ingrained in you to where nobody can stop you.”

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The Huskies didn’t have that a year ago, as UW coach Steve Sarkisian admitted when he met the media before spring ball and addressed the team’s goals, saying that improving as a physical team was right at the top.

“You can point to some of those games where we kind of got knocked around when we really tried to run the football,” he said. “And for us to really take this offense to another level (that has to improve). If we can run the ball with more consistency and more physicality, it’s only going to create more big plays in our passing game. So that’s the goal. That’s what we’ve got to get to.”

What should help is the return of all but one significant player on the offensive line from a year ago, four-year starting tackle/guard Ben Ossai. What also helps is the experience those players have in their second year in Sarkisian’s offense.

“Mentally, we are way further ahead,” said Christine, who has recovered from a broken fibula and torn ligaments in his ankle suffered in October against Arizona. “When they call a play, you know what you are supposed to do. Last year, when they said a play, you would sit there on the way to the line and say, ‘OK, what’s that play? I’ve got to do this.’ Now we just run to the line and wait for the defense.”

Cozzetto agrees that the line looks significantly improved.

“We are a long ways from where we were a year ago,” he said.

Still, Cozzetto continues to probe for the ultimate combination up front. As spring ball began, the line had undergone almost a complete makeover. Notably, center Ryan Tolar was moved to left guard, right guard Senio Kelemete to left tackle and left tackle Drew Schaefer to center. With right tackle Cody Habben out for the spring to rest a shoulder injury that required offseason shoulder surgery, Skyler Fancher is running with the starting unit at that spot. And Mykenna Ikehara, who started the final game at center, is at left guard.

“Just doing some research on the guys,” Cozzetto said of what led to the changes. “We’ve only been here a year and just going back to positions that they had played before. Ryan Tolar seems a heck of a lot more comfortable at guard. We’re trying to create as much competition as we can, get them as good as they can be.”

NOTES

• UW welcomed two new walk-ons Saturday — defensive end Peter Follmer of Kentridge High, also a member of the track team as a weight thrower; and receiver Din Kuses of Edmonds-Woodway.

• Sarkisian said Mt. Si High graduate Brandon Yakaboski remains sidelined with a knee injury and that a determination may be made soon whether he can continue to play. He has not played since the Stanford game early in the 2008 season. Said Sarkisian: “His knee is just not healing the way we want, so we’re going to go through one more step with the doctor to see if he can really play again.”

• WR Jordan Polk left practice with a hamstring injury, though Sarkisian indicated it’s not serious. WR D’Andre Goodwin is also struggling with a hamstring injury.

• Arizona Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart was a visitor at practice Saturday — he was coached by Sarkisian at USC. Leinart was at practice for a half-hour or so before departing.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com