Washington coach Steve Sarkisian talked to the media for about 45 minutes or so today kicking off spring football. Here’s what he said:
Opening statement: “It’s good to wake up to the sun shining and the start of football again. Been a little shorter off-season than maybe we are accustomed to but we are champing at the bit to get on the field and get going. We are excited about this team that we have in place. I think we are poised for a great run. We have a lot of work to do, obviously, but we are poised for a great run.
“To touch on some specifics and then get into some of the emphasis of spring, from an injury report standpoint, guys that will not be active for spring football will be (Hau’oli) Jamora, (Colin) Tanigawa, (Deontae) Cooper, (Jesse) Callier, (Pio) Vatuvei, (Travis) Feeny, (Lawrence) Lagafuiana. Guys that will be limited early on that will I think we will get a lot more work out of in the second half of spring ball will be (Brandon) Beaver and (Erik) Kohler and then somebody who will be non-contact all of spring ball but will be out there participating with a yellow jersey on is Darien Washington.
“From a position change standpoint, Taz Stevenson is going to move back to safety, Thomas Vincent will also move to safety just because of sheer numbers there. Attrition as always is part of it and Corey Waller has decided to transfer. (Long snapper) Ryan Masel will not be there for spring practice but will be back in the fall so we are okay there. And then Cameron Van Winkle, a young man who we signed, we will have available for us the second half of spring practice after spring break, that to go along with the addition of Troy Williams and Trevor Walker who we got in the winter.
“Some of the emphasis that we are going to focus on this spring are to really try to expand our comfort zone. I think we are a team and a program that is very detail-oriented and structured in a sense that we have our routine and we have our regiments and when we live within those routines and regiments we perform very well. I think that speaks to our home record. We haven’t performed great when we have gotten out of our own comfort zone and out of our own elements, and so we are going to try to expand our comfort zone this spring. So that’s why you are seeing the early start time to spring practice and why four of the first six spring practices won’t really begin until almost 8:30 at night which in turn means we won’t be getting off the field until around 10:30 at night. When we come back in spring we will be going right back to mornings when we will begin meetings at 6:30 in the morning and we will be on the field at 8:15 in the morning.So trying to get these guys to play that it’s not about where we play or what time we play or who we are playing or what uniforms we are wearing or what uniform they are wearing or any of that. It’s about controlling what we can control and controlling our own performance and our preparation for that performance. So that will be a big emphasis for us.
“Obviously, specifically to football, the football itself will become an emphasis for us again. I thought we did a tremendous job this past fall of creating turnovers, hopefully we can continue to build on that. Offensively it was not one of our better years of taking care of the football so that will be a point of emphasis. Our ability to create explosive plays on the offensive side of the ball will be a big point of emphasis. You are going to see a bit more tempo or no-huddle type offense, especially early in spring, in an attempt to create more explosive plays and in turn that should help our defense in a point of emphasis of defending no-huddle, spread teams, which we have struggled some defending in the past.
“Our red-zone efficiency will be a point of emphasis on the offensive side of the ball and then to continue the strength on the defensive side of the ball really the past few seasons but most notably last year. We ran some numbers and I know how our conference keeps red zone efficiency numbers, we do it a little bit differently because you get opportunities in the red zone to either score touchdowns or not and that’s really the difference between winning or losing and I believe on defense last year our defense was in the red zone 28 times and we held our opponents to 14 touchdowns, which if you look at sheer percentage was second in our conference only to Oregon, who held their opponents to 48 percent touchdown ratio when they were down there. So we want to continue to build on that. We need to get our offensive numbers back to where they were two years ago when we were scoring touchdowns to over 80 percent clip on the season to where last year we really fell off. To that will be a point of emphasis. Fundamentals will be a big key for us this spring as always. Pad level is huge for us on both sides of the ball. Our techniques at the skill positions will be big. The development of leadership will be big for us. This is a football team that we’ve talked for the last few years about youth. Well now all the sudden that youth has become veteran leadership for us that we want to be able to build upon this spring.
“Competition will be a big key for us this spring, as it always is, where guys will earn their opportunities to play and how much they play and how much opportunities they get when we come back for fall camp. And then ultimately we just want to get better as a team. This is a hungry football team. One that like I said is chopming at the bit to get back on the field playing football and then ultimately back on the field for the fall season of 2013. We obviously have a lot of work to do in a lot of areas on our team to improve this ballclub. But it is a talented one and one that’s hungry to get back on the field tomorrow night and get going.”
On how close Jamora is to coming back: “He’s as close as the other guys. You do an ACL and it takes time. I wish all of these guys could be on the Adrian Peterson program. But we are not quite there yet. But we have time and this isn’t, we are not playing a ballgame here in a month. We have some time until we play and we want to continually strengthen them so that when we come back for fall camp they are better than 100 percent from where they were so they can perform at the highest level. Because when you listen to those names that I just rattled off, those are all key contributors to our football team. They are all starters or potential starters that are key role players for us when we come back in the fall for this season, so to get these guys healthy is big for us.’’
On how key it is to be more veteran now: “I think it is big. We are still going to have to, just like any season, rely on some young players to step up and perform for us. I’d like to think that number doesn’t have to be as big as it has been as some years in the past. But again, the best players play in this program, and we signed a tremendous class and they are going to come in and push these veterans to the limit to earn playing time and so these guys need to take advantage of this opportunity and these 15 spring practices to show what they are capable of doing and how much they have improved so that when fall camp rolls around and our freshmen are on campus that they are that much further ahead. But this is going to be a hungry freshmen class coming on campus.’’
On what UW will look at to improve the red zone offense: “It’s everything. We have been an excellent red zone football team up until this past season. We’ve been tremendous. I think you could argue two years ago Stanford and ourselves were No. 1 in the country in percentage in the red zone two years ago. I think some of that has to be said of when you have veteran players and we were fortunate that we had a couple of veteran wide receivers on that team in Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, I thought we had good schemes in place. We had nice balance run and pass. The playcaller calling the plays could fund rhythm in those settings and you could create points. Last year for whatever reason we weren’t very good in the red zone. We struggled at times, whether it was through execution, whether it was through game plans and the play calls. Whether it was trying a little too hard to make a play and turning the ball over. All of those things add up and then with that you either get better in the red zone and have a great deal of confidence and expect to score or you may lose some confidence at times as you start to not produce those points that you are accustomed to scoring and maybe you start to second-guess yourself a bit as a play-caller. You start to second-guess yourself a bit as the guy throwing the ball or the guy making that block. You want to do so well but it can create some uncertainty. So we need to get back to playing with confidence down there and trusting the schemes that we have in place, implementing a few new things that will fit the personnel that we have on our roster so that ultimately we will be a very efficient football team in the red zone because it does have a distinct factor in winning and losing.’’
On how the quarterbacks will be managed in the spring: “That’s a great point because Keith Price is our starting quarterback. The goal is to get Keith Price back to playing the way he was two years ago. And to do that we all have to do our jobs to make that happen. But also, there are four guys behind him that are going to be champing at the bit to 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. There will be nothing done off the cut — ‘hey you go, now you go’ — everything is going to be detailed and written out so that we know exactly how many reps each young man is getting whether it’s with the ones or the twos, so that they get enough opportunities to show what they are about and then opportunities to then maybe make up for some of the mistakes that they make early. Because they are not going to be perfect early on but they have to have the chance to grow through some of the growing pains that they will experience in spring practice. And in the meantime getting No. 17 back on track to where he belongs. And so that is the beauty of spring practice — I don’t have to worry about a game six days from now where we are implementing a gameplan and everything. It’s really focusing on the individuals on our roster and what we need to do improve them individually which ultimately should help us improve collectively.’’
On if it’s a new slate with Keith or a continuation from last year when he has talked to Price this off-season: “I think it’s an entire body of work. I touched on that I can’t believe this is his fifth year, here we go. This is a guy from the day I got this job was of the utmost importance to get signed and keep committed and get on our roster to now we are heading into senior year spring practice and everything we need to focus on and everything in between. The ups and downs and the smiles and the tears and everything we have experienced together, I don’t know if you can just completely wipe the slate clean every time. We have been through a lot together and we’ve got one chapter left and we want to make this thing a great ending. I hope for him that that happens but like I’ve said to Keith and 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. So he understands the focus of this spring and what he needs to do for himself so he can perform to the highest level of his capabilities.’’
On what are the two or three things he needs to see from Price to know he is back to form: “One of the big keys is the football aspect of it and taking care of the football the way that I know he is capable of doing it. Another is his mobility, we have made it a point here for the last two months to really focus on the strength and explosiveness of his legs because 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, which is what we have seen out of him. 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. So that’s something we definitely need to get back. And then ultimately Keith 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. 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. It’s developed through confidence, through belief, to where it exudes out of him and it’s not trying to be created superificously. And I think from everything I have seen in the off-season workouts up to this point, that’s where we are at. Now, he has to go perform and that’s the beauty of sport that you have to do all of the preparation and then can you take all of the preparation, whether that’s mental, physical or emotional, which he has exhausted himself to, and translate that to the football field for practice and then be able to take that from practice to the games and then at the most critical moments of the football games. That’s the challenge we all get presented in sports and he is just in one that is magnified right now. But he chose to be a quarterback when he was 7 years old and that’s part of the gig, you know?’’
On what he needs to see from any of the backups to see them as having a chance to make a run at the job: “I need to see guys play good football. I know that sounds pretty simplistic, but we could sit here and overanalyze the position over and over and over again. At the end of the day it’s guys who understand our plays and what we are trying to get done, guys that don’t turn the ball over, guys that throw the ball to the right guy, do it accurately. Guys that the other 10 players on the field with them rally around, rally behind, want to play with, make plays for, and at the end exude the confidence needed that exemplifies Husky football. I think that is something we all cherished about Keith two years ago because we felt that this guy is playing through injury, who is battling and competing, that’s what Husky football is and how Huskies play the game. And that’s what every quarterback should exude. I think that’s why we all, and there are different moments in time, why we fell in love with Jake Locker and Marques Tuiasosopo and Mark Brunell, whoever these great players were at this position, there’s a reason it’s the most important position in sports. And you want that guy to embody the characteristics of your roster and your team and that’s what I’ll be looking for.’’
On the increased emphasis on stopping Oregon’s spread offense: “Well they are going to have a great team. With David Shaw listening, I’m sure he has something to say about it, I’m sure Mike Riley has something to say about it. I think that in general, Oregon has been on a really nice run and one that they should be proud of, they have done a great job. I think that we have an opportunity here in mid October, they are going to come into Husky Stadium and it’s going to be an exciting night. That’s what rivalries are about and playing those types of ball games and they’ve had the better of this series here for the last few years and that’s how rivalries go at times and until we break that spell and start swinging the momentum back in our direction, that’s what it is going to be about. It’s going to be a big game every year and this year is no different.”
On the most frustrating part about the offense last year: “I don’t know if you can just say it was one thing. I think in general if I could say, the passing game, because that encompasses a lot. Especially because of the years we have had in the past and our ability to throw the football and be effective, whether that is talking about taking care of the ball better and pass protecting in interceptions, whether that is third down efficiency, you look and it was down dramatically last season. You talk about red zone offense and inability to score touchdowns down there so I would think the passing game is probably the biggest thing offensively that I want to come out of this Spring feeling better about. I think from a personnel standpoint, we will be. We are maturing at that position. It’s great to get James (Johnson) back. Kasen and Austin are only going to continue to improve. Jaydon Mickens should improve – Marvin Hall, DiAndre Campbell too. I think that our quarterbacks will improve; our offensive line should improve. All of those things what I want fifteen practices from now and when we get done on the 20th is say you know, ‘I feel really good about where we are at from a passing game standpoint’ because we’re going to need that to be the explosive offense that we want to be.”
On Cameron Van Winkle: “He’s a big leg kid. He is a guy when you see him kick, he has a very powerful leg. I would like to think we are going to see an immediate impact from him on kickoffs., to where we are not having to cover on as many kicks, to where they are going to get the ball on the 25 yard line as first and ten off of touchbacks. By doing that, I think that will lighten some of the load on Travis (Coons) to where he is not exhausting himself on kickoffs and in the punt game and in the field goal game to where Travis can really focus in on field goals, and if Cameron is good enough to beat him then so beat it. The competition will be on there. I’m hopeful that Korey Durkee can return to form in the punting game to lighten the load on Travis there as well. I think we asked a lot of Travis last year to do all three. I think there are not many guys in the country that can handle that. Whether or not that had an effect on some of the kicks late in the ball games, late in the year, I don’t know that, but I do know that is a tall order so I would like to reduce some of that on Travis as we get into next fall.”
On gauging the players’ motivation going into spring practices after losing the last two games of the season: “I don’t think that taste is going to go anywhere for awhile which is okay. We lost two games that we should have won. The end result is we are sitting here talking about a 7-6 football team when we could have been here talking about a 9-4 football team. But I don’t know if that’s all bad. If we would have finished 9-4 and found a way to finish those last two games, I don’t know what January or February would have been like for us as a football team. We may have still been hungry and I would like to think so and striving for more. We might have grown a bit complacent. What I do know is there is zero complacency in our locker room right now. This is a hungry group that wants to redeem themselves for the opportunities that we let get away from us so the end result could be a real positive impact that those two games had on our program. I know that’s hard for me to say and accept but the reality of it is, is that I know what our guys have been doing with offseason conditioning. Now we need to put it all together here in spring practice but I don’t know if that taste is going to go away here for a while. I think that one’s with us but like I said, I don’t necessarily think that’s all bad.”
On how much better the offensive line can be: “I think they can be tremendously better. Just looking at them in person, they look really good, they look really strong, they look physical, we have a great deal of experience on our offensive line. The reality of it is probably half of those guys played too soon for what we would have like to have done with them. But now we get an experienced group back and we get them for years to come. What it should also do is allow for the young linemen that we are bringing into our program to redshirt and develop. It is taking us some time at that position group. They still have hurdles ahead that they need to continue to work on and challenges that they need to continue to work on. I just like the fact that we have an experienced group of linemen coming back that have played in big time games against big time opponents and have had some growing pains along the way, some tough moments, but moments that they can learn from and hang onto in an offseason to get better and do what they need to do to get better so when the fall rolls around, they feel really confident in their abilities to perform.”
On who really excites him about his progress: “I think Ben Riva has had a really good offseason, he looks good, he is really assuming a leadership type role. I think for Micah Hatchie to spend an entire season playing at left tackle against some of the defensive ends he had to see last year, he has benefited from. Shane Brostek has put on 20 pounds, I think he realizes some of these 3-techniques that you have to block in our conference are pretty difficult guys and so I could go on and on and touch on all of them but I think those three guys this offseason have been impacted on the experience they got last fall. Not to sat that hasn’t helped Mike Criste or James Atoe. Not to say we can’t wait to get Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa back on board. Not to say that Dexter Charles playing as a redshirt freshman hasn’t helped him either. But I think those first three guys it is going to have an impact on them as they move forward in their career.”
On how much he was involved with Austin Seferian Jenkins’ decision to not play basketball this season, and if he will keep playing defensive end: “It was a pretty simple one for Austin. He had been nursing that ankle injury really the last third of the season or so coming out of the Oregon game and never really was 100 percent so I think it really was pretty clear for him that it was time to rehab the ankle and get that feeling great so he could have a nice 2013 campaign. In a perfect world, Austin doesn’t have to play defensive end ever again here for us but you never know what the future holds, knock on wood, and we had our fair share of them last year. I don’t think you will see Austin at defensive end this spring ball, I can tell you that. But as the season gets going, you never know. In a perfect world, he doesn’t have to play defensive end for us anymore. The ultimate goal is to try to win football games and if we need him to rush a passer on third down in a critical moment of a game. I’m not saying that won’t ever happen.”
On if he is feeling they have a real impact pass rusher now: “Well, Josh Shirley, he was a redshirt sophomore last year and I think Josh created eight fumbles, was the number Justin Wilcox gave me, which is a pretty high number for a guy rushing the passer causing fumbles. I think for Josh, one key this spring, the tempo is going to be big for him. Where we didn’t feel Josh’s impact last year was against the teams that sped up the game and went more no huddle. I thought that he disappeared in those types of games a little bit and for him especially this first half of Spring where we are really emphasizing the tempo of what we are doing, this will be huge for him to find the consistency of rushing the passer in those settings when he is a bit more fatigued because he really has a chance to be an impactful player for us going into his junior and ultimately senior season. I would like to see him have a double-digit sack season for us. I don’t know exactly what his career numbers are at today, I think is upwards of 16 here halfway through his four-year career. I would like to continue to see him develop. I would like to be able to play Andrew Hudson a bit more end rather than inside so he has opportunities to rush the passer. I’m excited to see the development of Cory Littleton rushing the passer for us. And then I would like to see our three backers, when you are talking Timu, Shaq, and Feeney, when they get going, their ability to finish plays because they showed the athleticism last season to be in the backfield, we just missed some opportunities when they were there. They give us a lot of athleticism at the linebacker position, now we need to finish those plays so that will be a point of emphasis for us this Spring as well as fall.”
On how his preparation has changed going into spring practice since he has been here: “I’m trying to think back to how I have been before. I’m not big on being sentimental and thinking back that’s what you are supposed to do when you retire. I’ve got a long way to go until that but I’ll say this about myself personally. I don’t know I’m trying to remember back. I don’t if I’ve ever been as excited for a spring practice because the one area where I feel like I have the most impact on our roster and our team is the passing game. I love the running game, I love defense, I love special teams, I love motivating our players. But if there is one area of expertise that I feel like I can hang my hat on, I can go speak at a clinic in front of whoever wants to sit and listen to me, is talking about the passing game and I think that is the biggest area of our football team that needs improvement. I’m as excited as ever, maybe more this spring practice because I feel like I am going to have my hand in the practices. I’m going to talk to the team tonight and I am going to talk to them tomorrow and all of that stuff, I love that. But when we take the field and we start throwing the football, I’m excited about that I’m really excited about this team. This is a great group of guys that have a chance to be pretty special, we have a lot of work to do.”
On Desmond Trufant’s performance at the combine: “Very cool, Desmond was just in my office 30 or 45 minutes ago. I’m really happy for Desmond. Again, another guy who probably played too early in his career, to be fair to him, but because of the situation we were in, played pretty extensively as a true freshman and true sophomore and had to live through some growing pains and probably some unfair scrutiny because we put him in those situations where he had to play but the end result is a guy who learned from those growing pains and got better and better and better. (He) had a really good senior season and continued to work at it. He is going get drafted really high in the draft. He is finishing up his degree and going to walk here in the spring and earn his degree. So, an awesome family, and I am really proud of him and he deserves everything he gets.”
On if there is an added emphasis of opening strong with the team opening a new stadium this year: “Not today, and not tomorrow, we have a lot of stuff to work on. It will be a great day on August 31, when we open up the stadium and it’s been a tremendous project. I am as much excited for us and for our players as I am for our fans to get back in there. It’s going to be an amazing atmosphere but we have to do our part, tomorrow, Thursday, Saturday, next Tuesday, next Thursday, next Saturday so that when we get in that moment, we are ready to perform. I was talking to the staff about this – I think so many times we get caught up in the end result and always want to get caught up in the record or the score, the record or the score, and sometimes we miss the journey and what has gone on right in front of us. I can’t believe we are going into year 5 since I’ve been here and there have been some amazing moments along the way and there has been some tough moments along the way, all of which we have learned from. I think back to Keith and think back to different things and we can get back always staring at the scoreboard and if you get caught staring at the scoreboard in the third quarter and just want the clock to reach all zeros, you are going to miss things that happen right in front of you right then and potentially bad ones. I think sometimes you can get caught watching the scoreboard and miss the experiences of the day to day operations so we know what August 31 is when we play Boise and we know how big that day is going to be not only for us and for our community and university. We have a journey that is starting March 5 to get us to that point and we can’t get caught staring at that date and letting a day go by when we are not getting any better.”