SEATTLE – A year ago, it was all new for Steve Sarkisian and the football players he inherited at Washington.
Nobody knew what Sarkisian’s coaching style was like. Sarkisian didn’t know how his players would respond to his tactics. It was all a blank slate coming off a winless 2008 season with nowhere to go but up.
Now as the Huskies are set to begin their second spring under Sarkisian this week, there is familiarity and understanding on both sides.
And there is a new set of expectations for Washington to embrace, both external and internal.
“They’re high in the outside world, but they’re high in the locker room,” Sarkisian said on Monday. “These guys want to achieve greatness. They feel like it is there. They feel like there were some missed opportunities last year and there is a lot of belief there. They believe in our systems, they believe in our offseason programs, they believe in each other and it’s created a very exciting atmosphere.”
The Huskies are coming off a 5-7 season in 2009, a positive first step in Sarkisian’s inaugural run as a head coach and one that started to erase the stain of 2008’s 0-12 debacle. There’s optimism that the competitiveness Washington showed will eventually lead the Huskies back into the upper echelon of the Pac-10.
Much of the focus in the spring will be on the continuing progress of quarterback Jake Locker, who bypassed a chance at millions in the NFL to return to Washington for his senior season. Locker was touted in December as being a potential high first-round pick in next month’s draft, but put any doubt to rest when he announced on Dec. 14 that he was returning to school.
Playing in Sarkisian’s prostyle offense, Locker threw for 2,800 yards and 21 touchdowns, completing 58 percent of his throws. It was the third-highest passing total in Washington history and the TD throws were fourth-best at a school with a tradition of producing NFL quarterbacks.
He also added nearly 400 yards and seven TDs rushing, tempering his natural reaction to run when the situation presented itself to be more of a passer.
Sarkisian confirmed on Monday that Locker may have some commitments to baseball during the spring and summer. Locker was a 10th-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Angels last June and signed with them in August. He attended Angels spring training in Arizona for a weekend this month and did some hitting drills, Sarkisian said, but any additional commitments are being negotiated.
Sarkisian said the Angels understand that football in Locker’s top priority.
“There is still discussion and talk. It’s very clear that the emphasis for him this spring, this summer, this fall, is on football,” Sarkisian said. “The Angels recognize that and respect that. … The priority is on football. Where baseball fits it will fit.”
But Locker will be missing some familiar faces when the Huskies take the field today.
Up to six potential starters will be absent for part or all of spring practice because of injuries or because they are recovering from surgery. The most notable is running back Chris Polk, who became Washington’s first 1,000-yard rushing freshman last season. Polk had shoulder surgery and will miss all of spring ball.
Also out on offense is lineman Cody Habben (shoulder surgery). Defensively, ends Kalani Aldrich (knee) and Everette Thompson (Achilles), safety Victor Aiewya (shoulder) and cornerback Desmond Trufant (groin) will be out. Sarkisian said Trufant could return this spring.
Those injuries, graduation and a handful of players leaving the program leave just 70 healthy bodies expected for spring practice. It’s a major concern on the defensive line, where end Andru Pulu has been suspended following his arrest for assault.