It’s easy to point out the best throw UW quarterback Keith Price made during the first day of spring football practice Monday.
It wasn’t the laser he threaded to freshman Marvin Hall on a seam pattern, which the diminutive receiver took for a touchdown.
It wasn’t the deep throw to James Johnson on a crossing pattern that led to another score during an 11-on-11 drill.
No, the best throw came when Price reached down and removed the bulky plastic brace on his left knee and tossed it to the trainers on the sideline.
It was a move that said: no more knee problems, no more brace.
“I didn’t need it anymore,” he said flashing trademark smile. “I felt good running around.”
In fact, the brace was causing more discomfort than anything.
“It was kind of bugging the back of my knee because I didn’t need it,” he said. “I was just trying it out.”
Instead, Price used his “new legs.”
They looked more than new when he shook free for a long run later in the practice as he showed speed that wasn’t there last year by running away from three defenders.
He said it has been a long time since his legs and body have felt this strong and healthy.
“Even before my freshman year, I feel like,” he said.
With the exception of USC’s Matt Barkley, there might not be a better returning quarterback in the Pacific-12 Conference – maybe on the West Coast. Price was that good last year.
As a largely untested sophomore and fighting through injuries to both knees and a shoulder, Price threw for 3,063 yards (second-most in school history) and set UW single-season records with 33 touchdown passes, a 66.9 completion percentage and a 161.09 passer efficiency rating.
Expectations will be unbelievably high in the upcoming season. The Heisman Trophy is even being mentioned.
But for now, UW coach Steve Sarkisian just wants Price to get healthy and continue to grow.
“I thought he looked explosive,” Sarkisian said. “I thought he looked strong. Again it’s a first day, fresh legs and all that. The key for Keith isn’t about today or Wednesday for that matter. 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.”
Price has already done the work in the offseason to build strength in the legs in preparation for spring drills. He’s up to 195 pounds and looks stronger than a year ago.
“We did some lifting stuff, took away some stuff and added other stuff to help me stay flexible and to get flexibility,” Price said.
Unlike a year ago, there were no questions about replacing Jake Locker or competing for the No. 1 job. It’s Price’s offense now. And he carried himself that way while still being his usual gregarious self.
“I thought he looked great,” Sarkisian said. “Typical Keith in the sense he was upbeat and very spirited. Has a great deal of fun at practice. I think he is one of the keys to the way we practice, quite honestly. I think part of it for Keith was, he did some really, really good stuff, and maybe forced some balls that weren’t there. But that’s part of figuring out what are your limits now, how far can you take this thing.
“I thought the rapport between him and coach Kiesau (new offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau) was good. I thought he did some really good stuff, and he will learn from the couple mistakes that were made.”
Price feels different this season. There’s a confidence in him. At times last season, when he might have been unsure, there is no hesitation this year.
“I feel good,” he said. “I‘m going through my progressions and hitting a lot of checkdowns, and that’s the main thing; getting through my progressions, and if things aren’t there don’t turn the ball over and just get completions.”
• Washington had 10 offensive linemen suited up. Starting right tackle Erik Kohler participated in practice on a limited basis. But he was working out with the second-team unit as a guard. Sarkisian said that Kohler didn’t participate in as much of the offseason conditioning because of minor injuries and is behind.
• Running back Deontae Cooper, who is recovering from a second surgery on his left knee, wore a big brace on the surgically repaired knee and did some running and a few other drills, but he didn’t do much else.
• Recent graduates Kiel Rasp and Erik Folk were coaching the two walk-on kicker/punter candidates – Jacob Dunn and Mihai Ion – during practice. Neither Dunn nor Ion looked particularly strong, each only making 1 of 3 field goal attempts from 25 yards. Washington appeared to be auditioning more walk-on kickers after practice. Drew Schultz was the center for long snaps.
• As expected, safeties Travis Feeney and James Sample and H-back Cooper Pelleur all wore red no-contact jerseys. But with practice being in shorts and helmets and no shoulder pads, they were all able to participate a fair amount.
• Redshirt freshman quarterback Derrick Brown, who is trying to earn the backup spot, looked strong throwing passes over the middle, making a few nice completions. Passes to the sidelines? Not so much. He also threw two interceptions during 11-on-11 drills.