Here are five questions facing the Huskies as they open camp Monday, 26 days before the Aug. 31 season opener against Boise State on opening night at new Husky Stadium.
1. How well will UW transition to the new no-huddle offense? Senior quarterback Keith Price admitted he was initially worried when coach Steve Sarkisian approached him early in the offseason about the team’s shift to an up-tempo, no-huddle offense. “Are we going to have to learn a new system?” Price asked. The plan, Price was told, isn’t to reinvent the offense; the Huskies just want to speed it up. After that, Price said, “I loved it.” And now? “It’s gelling real good for us.” The Huskies were careful not to reveal too much of the revved-up offense in the spring, so what the modifications ultimately look like, and how well they work, won’t be known until the season opener against Boise State. But with a veteran quarterback in Price, an established running back in Bishop Sankey and standout pass-catchers in receiver Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins, UW is expected to be much improved offensively.
2. Is the offensive line healthy … and better? Many of UW’s issues on offense in 2012 took roots in a banged-up and inconsistent offensive line, which lost three starters to serious injury in the first two games last year. The group returns four starters this fall, with left tackle Micah Hatchie, left guard Dexter Charles and right tackle Ben Riva all solidifying their starting jobs in the spring. Junior Mike Criste enters camp penciled in as the new starting center, and James Atoe figures to battle Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa — both of whom are coming back from knee injuries — for the right guard job. Shane Brostek will also be in the mix, and establishing depth on the line is a top priority heading into camp, particularly with the move to the no-huddle offense. “Being able to rotate those guys is a big deal,” Sarkisian said. “I do want continuity, but I also want competition because competition makes us all better. … I want (the line) to be a strength for this team. I don’t want it to be a concern.”
3. Where’s the rush? UW is expected to have one of the best set of linebackers in the Pac-12, led by established starters John Timu, Travis Feeney and Shaq Thompson. In front of them, questions abound. Sarkisian is hoping for a dominant year out of junior DT Danny Shelton, and the coach said establishing a consistent pass rush will be key if the defense is to take another step forward this season. Last year, UW had just 27 sacks — 30 fewer than Stanford, the Pac-12 leader in that category. The line’s depth took a hit last week with sophomore DE Pio Vatuvei was dismissed for an unspecified violation of team rules. Juniors Andrew Hudson and Josh Shirley return as experienced defensive ends, and senior Sione Potoa’e and sophomore Connor Cree figure to contribute prominently inside. How standout DE Hau’oli Jamora fits in, if at all, remains unclear as he battles back from injuries that derailed most of his 2011 and 2012 seasons.
4. With Desmond Trufant off to the NFL, who will step up in the defensive secondary? Sophomore Marcus Peters returns as the starter at one corner, but the battle to replace Trufant remains open. Senior Greg Ducre had a solid spring and appears to be the front-runner, but don’t count out junior transfer Travell Dixon or redshirt freshman Cleveland Wallace. Senior strong safety Sean Parker is the unquestioned leader of the secondary, and watch out for redshirt freshman Brandon Beaver, who could push senior Will Shamburger for the starting job at free safety.
5. Will Seferian-Jenkins miss any games? The All-American candidate at tight end pleaded guilty to a DUI charge last month and served one night in jail. It remains to be seen whether he faces further punishment from Sarkisian, who hoped to make a decision on ASJ before fall camp. It’s unlikely Sarkisian will make public his decision before the Aug. 31 season opener. “I think the worst punishment is spending a night in jail and thousands of dollars when you’re a college kid and the public humiliation as a 20 year-old guy that he’s had to go through,” Sarkisian said. “That’s pretty severe.”
Note: Because of ongoing construction work at the Stadium, UW practices will be closed to the public all season. UW coach Steve Sarkisian will hold at press conference at 11:30 a.m. Monday, and the first camp practice starts around 2:30 p.m. Check out the Husky Blog at seattletimes.com for updates throughout the day.