In the middle of answering a question about replacing running back Chris Polk, Washington football coach Steve Sarkisian wondered aloud: “I can’t believe this is year four, by the way. Unreal.”
Yep, it seems like just yesterday Sarkisian was preparing for his first spring practice at Montlake, fresh off being hired to replace Tyrone Willingham.
Much has changed. As Sarkisian embarks on his fourth spring campaign Monday, he does so with increased expectations after two straight bowl appearances and an almost entirely new coaching staff.
For the first time since he was hired, Sarkisian will step on the field without Doug Nussmeier (offensive coordinator), Nick Holt (defensive coordinator), Mike Cox (linebackers), Jeff Mills (safeties) and Demetrice Martin (cornerbacks). Holt, Cox and Mills were fired shortly after last season’s disappointing loss in the Alamo Bowl, while Nussmeier and Martin left Washington for similar jobs at Alabama and UCLA.
The changes made headlines in the offseason with the amount of money being spent for their replacements and their pedigrees.
Sarkisian likes what he’s seen from Eric Kiesau (offensive coordinator), Justin Wilcox (defensive coordinator), Tosh Lupoi (defensive line), Peter Sirmon (linebackers) and Keith Heyward (secondary).
“I have learned a lot,” Sarkisian said in his pre-spring football news conference Friday. “I think a couple things I was hoping for have come true. (They are) tremendous communicators, not only with one another and with me, but with our student-athletes as well as with recruits; very detail-oriented, very diligent in their works. I think they think of the player first, which is a great trait to have as a coach.”
But even he is intrigued to see their personalities in action on the field.
“I will learn a great deal more as we actually get on the field and I get to see them in person,” he said. “ Then we will get a better gauge on where to tailor our team and where we are headed.”
The Huskies are dealing with severe injuries on the offensive and defensive lines.
“My biggest concern, quite honestly, is just our overall depth up front, on both sides of the ball,” Sarkisian said. “You try to account for injuries, but you just never know. And we’ve been hit with a pretty good bug.”
On the offensive line, three of last year’s starters are ailing. Starting guards Colin Tanigawa (knee surgery) and Colin Porter (surgery on both shoulders) will not participate this spring. Starting right tackle Erik Kohler will be limited because of assorted minor injuries. And with the graduation of Senio Kelemete, that means center Drew Schaeffer will be the only starter fully cleared for spring.
On the defensive line, defensive end Hau’oli Jamora, who had season-ending knee surgery last season, will not be ready for spring ball. Defensive tackle Semisi Tokolahi, who was never quite the same after having surgery to repair a broken ankle last offseason, had surgery on the ankle again this offseason.
“Hopefully this will be the last of those surgeries, and to get him back 100 percent by the fall would be great,” Sarkisian said.
But the injuries weren’t just limited to the trenches. Wide receiver Kevin Smith, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament in the Alamo Bowl, isn’t ready to return. Safeties James Sample and Travis Feeney are both recovering from shoulder surgeries and won’t do any contact drills.
Sarkisian tried to stay upbeat about the situation and put a positive spin on it.
“It leads to great opportunities for a lot of younger guys on our roster that are deserving of that,” he said. “Hopefully when fall camp rolls around, the added reps they get in spring – with the addition of these guys coming back off their injuries – should make for a very deep football team, probably the deepest football team that we’ve had.”
Sarkisian has made a few changes to the spring football session.
First of all, practices will begin at 8 a.m. instead of the customary afternoon time slot.
“It just seemed like a natural fit for us,” he said. “All off-season, we train our guys in the morning. Our big guys lift and run at 6 o’clock in the morning, the next group comes at eight, the next group comes at 10. I just felt that it was natural to keep the timing for our guys the same way. Studies show that’s (the morning) supposed to be our sharpest in mind and body, so we’ll see how it goes.”
Sarkisian didn’t want to close the practices to the public, but with Husky Stadium basically torn down, Washington will have to practice at the east practice field and the Dempsey Indoor Center. Bottom line: There isn’t much room.
“Is it ideal for me to close practice?” Sarkisian said. “No. I think spring football is a great opportunity for fans to be part of Husky football and to be out and have that excitement in the air. We’re a little bit limited from a field-space standpoint. When you get on the east field when we practice over there, there’s just not a lot of room. The last thing I want to be doing is telling people to get back, stay back and not coaching our guys.”
Fans will get a chance to see the team practice at Memorial Stadium at 11 a.m. April 21 and at the spring scrimmage at CenturyLink Field at 1 p.m. April 28.
Running back Johri Fogerson, who is coming off knee surgery, was not listed on the spring roster. Sarkisian said Fogerson is still recovering from the surgery, but also mentioned that Fogerson is working toward graduating this spring. There are reports that Fogerson is considering transferring to a school for more playing time. If he receives a degree in the spring, he will be free to transfer to any school of his choice, regardless of division. Fullback Tim Tucker has been dismissed from the team for what Sarkisian said was a violation of team rules. The spring scrimmage has been changed to a 1 p.m. start on April 28.
Ryan Divish: 253-597-8483 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports