Huskies' Keith Price has focused on gaining weight and strength during the offseason and working on flexibility.
About halfway through Washington’s first practice of the spring Monday morning, Keith Price shed the brace protecting his left knee.
“I didn’t need it anymore,” he said later, matter-of-factly. “It was bugging the back of my knee.”
As much as Price downplayed the moment, nothing could be as vital to the Washington Huskies’ success this year as their quarterback being able to finally play without pain.
And on what turned out to be an unexpectedly spectacular morning on Montlake, the sight of Price running around the field would have warmed the hearts of Husky fans if they’d been able to see it. Practices are mostly closed to the public this spring due to the renovation of Husky Stadium.
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Price battled injuries to both knees throughout the 2011 season. He suffered the first injury in the first half of the first game against Eastern Washington and was never really healthy again. Neither injury required surgery. They simply required what Price didn’t have during the season — time.
“My injuries were about six to eight weeks (of needed recovery time),” Price said Monday. “And I was playing the next week. So it was just a matter of me getting off my feet and getting rest.”
Price was able to do that before the Alamo Bowl, and the difference was stunning. Able to fully utilize his legs for the first time, he often ran circles around the Baylor defense, rushing for three touchdowns and 39 yards on five carries.
Monday, Price said he felt the best he has since his freshman season.
“Using my new legs,” he said with his ever-present smile.
Listed at 195 pounds last season, Price said he was more like 185 when the season ended. But he has put on 10 pounds since the Alamo Bowl and says he’d like to be at 205 when the 2012 season opens in September.
Price said his conditioning plan has changed now that he knows what kind of shape he needs to be in to play a full season. The focus now is on flexibility.
Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said Price showed a renewed commitment to his offseason plan.
Even at less than 100 percent most of last season, Price passed for 33 touchdowns, breaking the school record of Cody Pickett (28 in 2002), also setting school records for completion percentage (66.9) and efficiency (a rating of 161.09).
“Even with the knee problems, he was better than almost all the Pac-12 quarterbacks,” said UW tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who caught six of Price’s TD passes last season. “He’s just going to be even better with no knee problems. He’s going to be running all over the place, and it’s going to be fun and interesting to watch.”
The transfer of Nick Montana means there is no other quarterback who has taken a snap in a college game. And Price stands as the most proven performer on a team that enters 2012 with major questions about its defense and offensive line and needing to replace three key offensive playmakers — tailback Chris Polk and receivers Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar.
The Huskies allowed 34 sacks last year, ranking 11th in the Pac-12 and 98th in the country, hits Price said he’ll need to avoid this season.
“A lot of those were on me, just taking ill-advised sacks and not getting rid of the ball,” he said.
Price said he’s concentrating this spring on looking more quickly to his secondary receivers rather than holding on to the ball and taking a hit.
Price, though, knows better than anyone that the real test will come in the fall, when he won’t be wearing a yellow jersey warning defenders to lay off.
“The key for Keith isn’t about today,” Sarkisian said. “In my mind, I’m thinking October and November. How do we keep building him up to stay strong for an extended period of time. That’s going to be our continued focus with him in the weight room, the training room and as we practice.”
• The Huskies will practice again on Wednesday. They will put on full pads for the first time Monday.
Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @bcondotta