Nothing irked Washington coach Steve Sarkisian more last year than the Huskies’ failure in his area of expertise: passing the football.
Quarterback Keith Price was the target of criticism for Washington’s step back in passing last season, and he deserves a chunk of the blame. But there were other factors around him that influenced his reduction from 33 touchdowns his sophomore year to 19 last season.
The offensive line was in flux. There was no reliable third receiver. Even Sarkisian didn’t like some of his own play-calling.
Which leaves the former quarterback staring at this spring as a chance to get into the garage, pop the hood and start banging around to tune up the passing game.
“Whether that is talking about taking care of the ball better, pass protecting, interceptions, (or) third-down efficiency, you look and it was down dramatically last season,” Sarkisian said. “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.”
Logical points of aid appear available. Wide receiver and fifth-year senior James Johnson will be back after taking a medical redshirt last season when he hurt his wrist in fall camp. The offensive line that was trying to figure things out on the fly last year returns with more experience.
The Huskies also know — as do opponents — they have a strong running game, thanks to Bishop Sankey’s breakout season during which he ran for 1,439 yards.
“I think that our quarterbacks will improve; our offensive line should improve,” Sarkisian said. “What I want 15 practices from now and when we get done on (April) 20th is (to) say, ‘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.”
AN EASY CALL FOR ASJ
When Austin Seferian-Jenkins limped off at halftime in Eugene last fall against the Oregon Ducks, it was clear he had a problem that would last.
Seferian-Jenkins injured his ankle and didn’t play in the second half in a 52-21 loss to the Ducks. The injury nagged him the rest of the season like an intolerant significant other.
That made not playing basketball this season, after playing as a freshman, an “easy” call, Sarkisian said.
“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,” Sarkisian said.
Despite the injury, Seferian-Jenkins moonlighted at defensive end. Washington used him on occasion in third-down situations to rush the passer. That’s unlikely to happen again.
“In a perfect world, Austin doesn’t have to play defensive end ever again here for us,” Sarkisian said. “But you never know what the future holds. I don’t think you will see Austin at defensive end this spring ball, I can tell you that.”
SHAQ STILL A LINEBACKER
The Huskies have decided to move Thomas Vincent and Taz Stevenson to safety in order to add some depth to the position. That’s the clearest sign yet that sophomore-to-be Shaq Thompson, who came into the program last fall as one of the top safeties in the country but played linebacker, will stay out of the secondary.
Thompson had never played linebacker prior to his first season with the Huskies. Washington used him there in its base 3-4 defense last season as well as in a hybrid spot within its nickel packages.
“When you make that transition and change of position, there’s going to be growing pains,” Sarkisian said. “We’ve seen it with (Travis) Feeney, we’ve seen it with (John) Timu and we’ve seen it with Shaq. But we’ve also seen some of the top-end things, the turnovers they’ve created on the defensive side of the ball.
“I’d like to really think the consistency at that position is only going to get better, to go along with the high-flying plays that they create for us, the turnovers they create.”
Thompson’s 74 tackles were fifth on the team last season.
GETTING THEIR KICKS
Last year, Travis Coons handled all three parts of the kicking game — kickoffs, punts and field goals — for most of the season. If Sarkisian has his way, Coons will be backtracking to just field goals.
Washington covered kicks well last season, but also had to cover a lot of kicks because Coons delivered only five touchbacks.
Newcomer Cameron Van Winkle will be slotted to handle kickoffs. Gig Harbor’s Korey Durkee is likely to punt, and Coons, who was 9-for-14 last season with a long of 45 yards, will take care of field goals.
At least, that’s the plan at the start of spring practice.todd.dybas@ thenewstribune.com blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas