(a little video of Steve Sarkisian talking about Keith Price)
You can listen to the podcast of it here.
It’s good to be back. I missed you guys. I really can’t believe this is year three already. I think back to initial press conferences 2 and half years ago, to some press conferences after some big wins, after some tough losses, going back to the Holiday Bowl. It’s come fast.
It’s been a fascinating ride because I see our football team now as one that really has adopted who we are. I think more so than anything these guys aren’t adopted anymore. We’ve got a couple of them that are still that our veterans, but the bulk of this football team are guys that we have recruited that have grown up in this culture and these schemes and these systems and these philosophies.
It’s been very encouraging because you are starting to feel the players speak the language to one and another, to coaches, to family, to friends and I think that’s what you want. Right, wrong or indifferent, this is what we believe in and the things we are doing. And I think our players, our kids believe in what we are doing. I couldn’t be more excited about that.
I like the leadership on this football team. I think we’ve got a senior class that is hungry, that has endured a lot of challenges from their freshmen year, but have persevered, and have understood what it takes, not only from a mental and physical toughness standpoint but from an emotional standpoint. I think they are hungry and eager to have a great senior season. And they’ve earned and demanded the respect from the youngsters on this ball club to follow their lead.
In all, I think we are primed for a great training camp. We still have plenty of work to do. There’s a lot to be done not only the football field but off the field. But in a nutshell I think this our most athletic team we’ve had in three seasons. From a depth standpoint, I love the depth at safety. I love the depth at linebacker. I love the depth at wide receiver. We have better depth on the defensive line than maybe we get credit for. I think we have better depth on the offensive line than maybe we get credit for.
I think we’ve got a few concerns on this team that need to be resolved sooner rather than later, most notably what are we going to do with the linebacker position with those two outside linebacker spots next to Cort Dennison in the middle. What’s the rotation going to look like at defensive tackle, along with Alameda Ta’amu, we’ve got a lot of options there. And then how we solidify the fullback position as far as we have Jonathan Amosa there and we love what he did in the spring, but to get added depth there. If that means we become more of a two tight end team, utilizing (Michael) Hartvigson and Austin Seferian-Jenkins and (Marlion) Barnett and (Andrew)Hudson and those guys, or if we do more stuff with three wides and get Jermaine (Kearse) in that spot doing different things. There are some questions to be answered. Obviously what happens at the punter position with the competition between Rasp and Mahan – two tremendous punters. Getting Erik Folk back to where I know he can be and that’s as an all-Pac-10 kicker. That will be another area of focus. Obviously, the return the game for us, really solidifying who we are, what we are about, what we embody as far as a punt return and a kickoff return team. I think we can only get better in those two areas.
And then ride the momentum of where we were the last four games as far as the way we tackled, the way we played defense, the way we covered kick, things of that nature.
So through it all we are excited. I think we’ve got a hungry football team, but it understands there’s plenty of work to be done.
On some notes that I know are going to be asked about. So I will cover them now.
We have three young men who won’t be able to practice yet with us. Two of which are NCAA issues. The first is Marvin Hall. The second is Kyle Lewis. Hopefully, we can get those two issues resolved sooner than that later so they can get on the field with us. Then the third young man is Antavius Sims who’s finalizing a couple of classes here and hopefully we can get him on the field sooner rather than later as well.We have a couple guys that will be limited from an injury standpoint. Up front on the defensive Semisi Tokolahi and Sione Potoa’e will both be limited somewhat early on. So that will create some nice competition up front and allow for some opportunities from some younger guys. In the back end, Taz Stevenson, Justin Glenn and Evan Zeger will be limited early on: Justin with a foot sprain, not serious. Evan with a hamstring which he did here in the summer, and Taz with a knee sprain. None of which are serious, which should hold them out for an extended period of time. But they are three injures that we want to get these guys back healthy and going here when they are 100 percent rather then them fighting lingering injuries weeks into the thing.
As well documented, Deontae Cooper is out. He will be back on Friday. He’s going to spend a little extended time back at home. The surgery went well. We are expecting a full recovery, a full return of him.
Adam Long is obviously still out with ACL injury and he will be back in a couple weeks as well. Those are the two main guys that will be out. But as far as everybody else we are a full go. We look good. I think Ivan Lewis did a nice job with the offseason conditioning program in the summer. A real tribute to our senior leadership and those guys getting everybody involved and being part of this thing and doing everything they were doing.
I think we are primed for a nice run.
How will the first team reps work with Keith Price and Nick Montana?
I would say with the 1s about two-thirds Keith Price, a third Nick Montana, realistically. We’ll monitor those numbers. There will be days when there will be days more for Keith, and there will be days there will be more for Nick – depending on what the emphasis of those days are, and where we are at in training camp. Because the challenge, I want to get Derrick Brown reps as well with the 2s, so as we bump up, more guys get reps. I want to see Thomas Vincent as well. He’s a kid that kind of intrigued me in spring football practice. He is a tremendous athlete. You are going to see him on special teams doing other things as well. It all works hand-in-hand as Nick gets a few more reps with the 1s, Derrick gets a few more reps with the 2s and Thomas gets a few more reps with the 3.
What do you think of the schedule?
Very similar. The beauty of it for me, year 3, same staff – a lot of continuity. We are on the same page. So I think we understand the schedule, our players understand the schedule very well. I think it maximizes our opportunities on the field, but yet allows for the guys to get a great amount of rest to recuperate, not only physically but mentally. We like the schedule.
Who are some of the breakout players for fall camp?
That part is hard, because I wasn’t with them. Everything I am giving you is off what Ivan tells me and his crew in how they looked. I can give you a better assessment of that after a day or two of practice and when we get on the field. But just on the hoof, I think Chris Polk had his best his best offseason. First time he’s been healthy for an entire summer offseason. His body really looks strong. He looks hardened. He looks good to me. Desmond Trufant looks fantastic. I think this was the best offseason for an Alameda Ta’amu. I think Everrette Thompson had a tremendous offseason – you look at his weight, I think he put on almost 20 pounds from last year. Hau’oli Jamora is up over 260 pounds now. A lot of bodies have changed. Part of that comes from maturing and growing up, and the other part comes from working really hard.
How is the fullback and tight end spots shaping up?
Well I think the beauty of our system, we’ve operated for two years now essentially without a tight end – at least last year. The beauty of this system, it has enough flexibility within there depending on where our strengths are, we can make this thing work and make it fit to what our personnel is. Our system and our schemes don’t change so much, but it is the personnel and maybe the formations that do. As we go through this process and assess Jonathan Amosa, as we assess a few other guys who are going to get opportunities at fullback that might be playing on the defensive side of the ball and as we assess the development of the tight end position, we can go in a lot of different areas. In a perfect world, we have it all at our disposal – we have a true fullback, we have two really good tight ends, we have a physical receiver than can get in there so we have all that as our disposal, and week to week we can emphasize one thing more than another. But we are not going to force that issue. If we are that much better with two tight ends on the field, that is the team we will become the majority of the time. But time will only tell when we get on the field and really assess that.
Are the eligibility issues all NCAA, or also university related?
Sims is more with the university – with us – because he hasn’t finished his classes yet. Until he can get to that point, that is the next hurdle. Hall and Lewis are NCAA issues where they have questions – and that is natural. They’ve got to get letters, and different things from their high schools submitted to the NCAA, they have to get read and that can take time. That one is out of our hands. Both of those kids have been admitted into school.
What walk-ons have earned scholarships?
Yeah, there’s a few guys. Kiel Rasp will be on scholarship, Brendan Lopez will be on scholarship again, Jonathan Amosa for sure. And that will take us right up to 85. Depending on what happens here or there, that might open up another scholarship or two that could potentially lend itself to another young man.
What should Keith Price try to do in this fall camp?
Not to try to be Jake Locker. To be Keith Price. Keith’s got a great personality about him. He’s an awesome kid. His teammates really respect him for who he is, not only on the field but off the field. And to be him. That’s the challenge, because so many times … after today’s practice, each and every one of you guys are going to ask him what’s it like to replace Jake locker, and Jake did this, and Jake did that. Well, at this point, I love Jake to death, I hope he goes on and does great things in the NFL, but he doesn’t get to play for us anymore. This is about Keith Price. It’s not about Jake Locker anymore.
How much of an offensive package can you give to Keith?
We’re going to have to assess it. We went into Oregon and we gave him a pretty good package last year when it was his time to play. And unfortunately, we didn’t play as well offensively around him as I think Keith Price played in that game, so I have a pretty good idea that he can handle it, even in a tough environment. But that remains to be seen. We’ve got to go through camp and I have to push him, I have to test him, I have to stress him to see how he can respond and what he can handle. The goal when we go to play Eastern and Hawaii and Nebraska and as we move into the season, those shouldn’t be the tests anymore. Those should be, he’s already got all the answers. The tests have to come in training camp to see what he can handle mentally, physically, emotionally, so that he can be really successful come September 3.
How much will Chris Polk’s presence benefit Keith’s progression?
I think it’s huge. The goal for us is to be a balanced offensive football team, to have a balanced attack to where you don’t know if we’re going to run it, if we’re going to throw it, and when we do, we can hurt you really badly either way and it can take its toll on you. And that just doesn’t happen. You have to work at those things. I think Chris Polk will be the first one to tell you, he hopes we have a great passing attack, and I think Keith Price will be the first one to tell you he hopes we have a great running attack because those go hand in hand with one another. That’s football, that’s natural, and so we’ll work at it. And I think Keith understands that. I think Chris understands that, I think our offensive line understands that, the receivers, the tight ends. We’ve developed that mentality. A quarterback’s best friend is a great running game, and that’s the reality of it, because the easiest passes to complete are play-action passes when guys are wide open. Play-action pass doesn’t work very good if you’re not running the ball. We’ve got to do those things and we’ve got to find a nice balance, a nice mix.
Are people underestimating Keith Price?
I don’t really care. I don’t know. I don’t care about what they think he’s going to be. It’s kind of like where people vote where they predict you to finish it doesn’t matter. That’s not going to affect how we practice how we play, how we perform. How people think Keith Price is going to play doesn’t matter. It’s how Keith Price does play that matters.
Barring injury, is there anyway Nick Montana could start?
If he plays really well, that’s the reality of it. And we’ll give him opportunities to do that. I don’t want people to think and Nick to think he’s going out to practice for the sake of practicing. He’s competing. If Keith doesn’t perform well and Nick does and it shows itself and lends itself that way that could easily happen.
You mentioned some defensive guys playing fullback?
Potentially yeah. We’ll work through and pick a guy or two a day to peek at some things; not as a fulltime deal but somebody that could give us that opportunity whether it be short yardage or first and 10 situations.
How do you see this program progressing after the three years?
We do. The point of it is we don’t want to forget where we came from and how much time and effort and blood and sweat and tears to get to where we are. We don’t want to forget that. But yet, we don’t dwell on the past. We learn from ourselves, we learn from our mistakes we learn from our successes and then we grow. Because the reality of it is and we all believe it in our locker room, change is inevitable. Nothing stays the same. You’re either getting better or getting worse. Fortunately over a two year period we’ve had some ups and downs but progressively we’ve gotten better. We’ve gotten better as a program and that’s the path we want to remain on. How that equates itself to wins and losses I’m not totally sure. I just know that we can play better football than we’ve played. We’ve gotten better, but we can get even better, we can get more consistent, we don’t’ have to have those lapses in the middle of the season where we don’t play well for a two or three week span. That doesn’t have to happen anymore. I think that’s part of the trajectory of where we’re headed.
How nice it having the five returning starting linemen?
I need like 10. I’ll take as many offensive linemen as I can get. You can never have enough. But I would like to know who our five guys are and where they sit and what they’re doing and in a perfect work I’d like to have that happen roughly 10 days to two weeks before our first ballgame so that continuity can really settle in and get those guys going. You’ll see some different things, guys moving around, getting different opportunities to compete. Come two weeks from today I’m going to know, I’m going to have a good idea of who our starting five are and they’re going to know too. Those type of things tend to settle themselves out on their own.
Do you know how they will line up?
I have a pretty good idea but I have to see what this looks like, I have see the body of work, I have to see what guys look like with the pads on, I have to see how guys respond to bumps and bruising, to pain, because I don’t know them. We’ve got some young guys that haven’t played football for us yet and we’ll see how they respond to getting beat, some guys look great, they get beat once and now they can’t get a win. We have to compile as much information as we can in a short amount of time.
Chris Polk said he lost some weight, what will that do for him?
Well the thing with Chris is I think Chris wants to say and show how hard he has worked because he has. The reality of it is he's lost probably five points, five or six pounds. But he's stronger, he feels better, he feels faster, he's in better shape. He almost feels like he's lost more weight than he actually has and it might even appear that way. But the beauty of it for us is that home-run hitting ability that he showed late in the year will be even more prevalent now because his speed is up and he's in better condition.''What is fair to expect from guys like Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins?
I expect really competitive young men. They are both highly competitive guys. I expect them to have their struggles - they are freshmen. I expect them to flash and to do some things that will wow people because they are that talented of athletes. The challenge for us is to really identify the things that they do well. Austin has a little bit of an upper hand because he was here for spring football practice so we have a better idea who he is, but there are a lot of things he had to work on this summer to get ready for fall camp. With Kasen we have to identify the things he does well and continually get him in position to do those things that he does well so that his confidence can build and grow and then identify the things he maybe really needs to work on if he's going to be successful at this level playing that position and we've got to hammer those things home and really teach and coach to those things so that his level of play can find itself so that he can be a consistent college football player as a true freshmen. It's not an easy thing to do. I think the natural thing is a great high school player or a five-star player shows up and they make plays all over the field. They build to that point and they have the mental toughness to persevere when they have those days in training camp when things don't go great. Quinton Richardson is going to try to jam the heck out of Kasen Williams, Desmond Trufant same thing. It's not going to be as easy as it was. But when they get through those dog days of summer when they are struggling and sore and tired and then they start to build and get more consistent and make those players, that's when they grow.''Can Kasen come in and be a contributor?
I won't know. I'm telling you I will answer after practice. I really don't know. I've had him in camp when he was in high school. But I'm as excited as anybody not to see just Kasen and Austin but we've got 20-some odd new faces and bodies that are great looking athletes that I want to see run around. I want to see catch balls. I want to see Jamaal Jones. I want to see Bishop Sankey, Corey Waller. I want to see Danny Shelton, Marcus Peters, James Sample, all of these guys that are now part of our football team. I'm as excited to see them and to see what they do well. Kasen is in the same boat. I will be able to assess where he is compared to maybe some of those other guys after a few practices after we get through the jitterbugs of the first couple of days and now it's just football for him.''
Does the fact that Austin came in early help push him to the field sooner?
He's as talented physically as anybody I've ever had at that position. He's 6-6, 250-something pounds, whatever he is, the hand-eye coordination he possesses is extremely unique. He's got extremely soft hands and he has the ability to keep his feet underneath him and the ability to release using his hands yet use wiggle. You can't teach that kind of stuff. But what he possesses where I was probably more impressed with him is his mental toughness, his makeup, his competitiveness. He wants to be great and he works at it that way. He's got a ton of stuff to work on fundamentally. He comes from an offense in high school where he was split out the majority of the time, basically playing wide receiver. Now he's in a three-point stance and he's trying to block Everrette Thompson and Hau'oli Jamora. And so the technique, the fundamentals, things of that nature to get to that point are going to be his biggest challenges, and then being really disciplined in his route running and running routes at the depths that need to be run at for this offense to go the way it needs to go.''
Is it fundamentals, or strength?
I think it's both. He's still a true freshman, you know, and he's blocking seniors. So the strength factor of it is him really understanding his true strength. He's a really strong kid. But it's getting in the right fundamental position to utilize that strength.
How does better depth help the special teams?
I think a couple things. I think it will allow us on offense and defense, first of all, to play more plays and not have us relying on the same 11 guys snap after snap after snap, to where they accumulate a bunch of snaps early in the season. By doing so, if those guys early in the season are our best 11 special-teams players we can give them more rest on offense and defense to allow them to continually be starters and every-down special-teams players. So I think that depth factor for us is that we can play more guys on offense and defense, and, two, we have recruited to special teams. If you look at our roster, especially the last two years, we've recruited longer, faster bodies. And that's what makes you good on special teams. Guys that can run, that can make plays and can play in space, and that are really good tacklers. And we've tried to recruit to that, because it's been an area of concern since year one and we've got to get better.
Everette Thompson looks as good as he ever has, and he’s healthy, how good is that to see?
Yeah, he looks great. He's become a tremendous leader on our team. He's a grown man, really. From when you first meet a kid when you take over a job and he was kind of young, bright-eyed, didn't know what he was doing, to now, he's a grown man. He approaches every day like a pro, and he's a tremendous leader for our young defensive linemen. We're a young group at that position. Talented, but young. So he sets a great example for them, on what it takes from a work-ethic standpoint on the field, in the weight room, in the film room, how to study tape, what to look for. He's just really mature. I'm really proud of him.
Who are guys that can step in and be leaders for this team?
For me, one of the best examples is, if you would have told me when I took this job two and a half years ago and after our first ball game that I would bring Chris Polk to media day, I would have thought you were crazy, right? This is a guy who didn't even want to talk to the media. To see him mature, he's just one example of how these guys grow up, and how they can mature. It's not just their physical maturation. It's their mental, and watching guys like the Jake Lockers, the Mason Fosters, the Donald Butlers, and watching guys like that and assessing them, and now they get the opportunity, they get it. We've just had a group of guys we inherited that were freshmen coming out of that 0-12 season and have grown this process and have grown through the ups and downs, and now really understand what it takes and they want to share it more so than ever before. More than the guys last year, because even last year's senior class really didn't know what it took. They really didn't know yet, until the end. Now our seniors and juniors, they get it, and they want to share it with the young guys what it's going to take for us to get this thing done. And they've just been much more apt to do so.
What role did the sports psychologist play in helping this team after the years of losing?
It was much needed. I’ve said this from Day 1: we inherited a football team that wasn’t just physically beat up; it was mentally beat up. It wasn’t just what occurred on the field, it was off the field: the rigors of going to class every day and being frowned upon, it was talking to family members and what not. It’s hard; it’s a tough process. So, as we’ve gotten through that, you never like to dwell on the negative, but the simple fact is that it was a process. It’s a real tribute to the players and to our department of working with these guys to get them to that point. The majority of them have persevered. We’ve lost a couple along the way, though, that weren’t able to.
Are you having Jake Locker withdrawals?
No. You guys remind me of it, though.
Does Danny Shelton have a chance to play immediately?
Oh, sure. I don’t know. I’ll find out. I know that Ivan raves about him. I know he’s already one of the strongest players on our football team, as an incoming freshman. But we’ll see how that equates to playing football and what that means and how you take on a double team and a trap block and all those things. So we’ll find out. Physically, sure he has a chance to, but that remains to be seen.
What are some of the key positions battles?
Linebacker, for sure. When you’ve got two openings at that spot, I think that’s a great competition. I think at strong safety, that’s another great competition with Taz Stevenson and Sean Parker and Shamburger and those guys at that spot at the strong safety, potentially, there. And then up front, on the offensive line, of exactly where we fit. So there’s some real competition at left guard; there’s some real competition at right tackle, that’ll have to sport itself out.
Scott Lawyer was supposed, to greyshirt, but he’s on the roster?
Yeah, he got healthy. He had shoulder surgery in the offseason, and all of the reports back, from the MRI and his doctor, he’s healthy and he’s fine and he’s ready to go. We were greyshirting him because of the simple fact that we didn’t think he’d be healthy enough to practice with us right now. But he is, so we brought him in, and he’s ready to go.
What about Jamal Jones?
Yeah, he looks great. He’s 100 percent, ready to go.
Is your punt return situation improved?
We just have to get better. We have to get better as a unit. A lot of times you say, our returners aren't very good. But you need to block. That's half of it. We need to do a better job up front. We have to be more in attack mode on punt return, put a little more fear that we might be coming after it for a block so the linemen don't release so quickly on the punt and are in the face of our punt returner...there's a lot of facets where we need to get better with that team, but it'll be a great competition with those returners as well. Obviously we'll see Devin (Aguilar) and Cody (Bruns) as the first two guys, but there will be a laundry list of guys, and it'll start today in pre-practice with guys catching balls, because that's the first battle - we've got to catch the ball. The second battle is who can make people miss, who can create plays, who can get us first downs when they catch the ball in their hands.
Are you recruiting to special teams now, and does that help your defense?
You have to get guys that can play in space, in this day and age. You still have to play Stanford, and you still have to play USC, who are going to line up in two backs and are going to try and pound you and play-action pass...you have to prepare for them. But in-between those weeks, you're playing an Oregon, you're playing an Arizona, you're playing a Washington State, you're playing a Utah who really spreads you out and play that brand of football, that spread brand of football. You have to recruit to guys that can play in space, that can run, who can cover ground, who can deter you from making those underneath, quick throws because they are long, rangy bodies and they can get their hands on balls. It's been challenging, and it's been challenging for everyone in the Pac-12. One week you're playing a Power-I team, the next week you're playing a spread offense. That's the beauty of this conference.
What did you learn about your team during the last four-game stretch in 2010?
We're really mentally tough. That was something that took time. We inherited a group that was pretty fragile, and I think we showed a lot of that fragile-ness during the first year and a half, going on the road and losing some tight games. But I thought our kids last year really showed the mental toughness and perseverance that it takes week-in and week-out when it's a grind...when the weather's not great and you're on the road and you're in a hostile environment...when you're playing in the rain at Cal, when you're playing in cold weather in Pullman, or you get paired up in a rematch with a team that beat you by 35 the first time around...it's not always about how physically tough you are, but how mentally tough, how can you handle the distractions that are there. And I thought our kids handled it awesome. And to me, that's really something that we can build upon and carry with us, and hopefully teach the young players that we've brought on board now that this is who we are, and that's what Husky Football is all about. Hopefully we can continually grow down that path, because I think it's something we can hang our hat on.
Which phase of the game he's most confident with - offense, defense or special teams?
I don't know. I'm not there yet. I'm not there to say gosh, I feel great about this yet. I've got to see us. Spring football is spring football; we go out and teach fundamentals, and we work on a few things here and there, we tinker with things. You like to see players that redshirted to see how they've developed and how they've grown. We did that. But now in fall camp is where develop the personality of the football team in all three different phases where we develop the mindset it takes and the schemes that fit the personalities and the talents of our roster. I'll be able to answer that question better in two weeks when I get a chance to assess us...I'd like to say that I feel great about us running the ball, or gosh I love our defensive line, or I feel good about our two corners...they have to go out and perform. It's not just about the potential of this football team, it's about who we really are, and that will bear itself out here in the first couple weeks of training camp.
Can Erik Folk get a possible sixth year?
We're trying. It looks like a long-shot right now, but we're trying.