The Huskies will split spring football practice into two parts this year, with a two-week break in the middle. One thing that hasn't changed: "Keith Price is our starting quarterback," says coach Steve Sarkisian.
Hoping to roust Washington out of a three-year cycle of 7-6 seasons, coach Steve Sarkisian is shaking up a few things as the Huskies begin spring practice Tuesday.
Specifically, the practice schedule itself, which is starting about three weeks earlier than usual and will include a two-week break in the middle. Times of practices will also vary — Tuesday’s will begin at 8:30 p.m.
Sarkisian said the changes are in part to get the team to concentrate on “what we can control” and not worry about external factors such as kickoff times or uniforms.
One thing, though, remains the same, Sarkisian said during a news conference Monday: “Keith Price is our starting quarterback.”
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Price, a fifth-year senior, is coming off an erratic season in which he threw 19 touchdown passes and was intercepted 13 times. He had a quarterback rating of 124.4, sharply down from his school-record 161.09 rating of 2011 when he also threw for a school-record 33 touchdowns.
Price’s struggles have led to the inevitable question of whether he could be tested this season by any of the other scholarship quarterbacks on UW’s roster — sophomore Derrick Brown, redshirt freshmen Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist and true freshman Troy Williams, who enrolled last month and is available for spring workouts.
Sarkisian said each of the four will be given a chance to state their case and that “we’ve said to Keith that we are not going to be stubborn enough that if another guy is playing better that that guy won’t get that opportunity to beat him out.”
But Sarkisian also knows the value of an experienced quarterback, especially one who is just one off the school record for touchdown passes — and especially with UW wanting to install more no-huddle, hurry-up offense this spring, something at which Price has generally excelled. “The goal is to get Keith Price back to playing the way he was two years ago,” Sarkisian said.
Sarkisian said one task for Price this spring is to cut down on turnovers.
Another, he said, is to become more mobile, which he also said was the focus of Price’s offseason conditioning, to improve the strength of his legs.
“When he can move in the pocket — not necessarily always outside of the pocket — but when he can move in the pocket to avoid those one-arm sacks where a guy grabs him, to avoid those sacks and those hits, he has got real playmaking ability because of his unique ability to keep his vision down the field,” Sarkisian said. “He lost some of that last year, and I think partially that’s why our sack numbers went up, that’s also why some of our big plays and the explosiveness in our offense diminished some.”
Sarkisian, though, also said he wants to see Price “playing the game of football the way he is capable of playing it, with the smile, the flair, the competitive nature that is natural to him. That’s not something that can be manufactured. I thought as we endured some of our struggles last year as a team we tried to manufacture the Keith Price of old and that’s not how it works.”
Sarkisian said he’s seen flashes of that from Price throughout offseason workouts but that “now, he has to go perform.”
If he doesn’t, the proverbial leash will be much shorter this year with the quartet of quarterbacks waiting in the wings. Last spring, only Brown was on the roster, and given Price’s outstanding 2011 season and the youth and inexperience of the backups, there was never legitimate competition for the job.
Now, Brown, Miles and Lindquist are all a year older and with at least one season of college practice under their belts, and Williams — by arriving early — will have an extra spring to be more competitive in the fall.
Sarkisian said one challenge this spring will be to make sure each of the four gets a fair amount of work, saying each will “get every opportunity they get to make this thing into a competition that either is going to push Keith to become a better player than he has been or ultimately try to surpass him. So there is a real balancing act in place.”
• Sarkisian has always set big goals for the Huskies and this year is no different. “I don’t see why we wouldn’t be in a position to compete for a division championship,” he said. “And that’s really the goal. If you win your division you get to play for a conference championship and if you’re playing for a conference championship, then you get to play for a Rose Bowl championship.”
• Sarkisian said seven players will be out for the spring. Six are recovering from knee injuries — DLs Hau’oli Jamora, Pio Vatuvei and Lawrence Lagafuaina, RBs Jesse Callier and Deontae Cooper and OL Colin Tanigawa. Another, LB Travis Feeney, is coming off shoulder surgery. Sarkisian said he hopes all will be ready for the season.
• Two players will be limited early — OL Erik Kohler and DB Brandon Beaver. But each should be able to participate in the second half of spring practice in April.
• Sarkisian said reserve DE Corey Waller, who did not play last season as a redshirt freshman, has transferred.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @bcondotta.