UW accelerates QB learning curve

COMMENTARY: Coach Steve Sarkisian wants whoever will be behind center for 2011 to be battle tested

April 10, 2011 

At some point before September, some young guy will take over as quarterback for the University of Washington football team. Whoever it is, it's clear that coach Steve Sarkisian is going to make him earn it.

During live team drills and scrimmage-like situations on Saturday, Sarkisian hurled a lot at sophomore Keith Price and freshman Nick Montana.

He had them running the no-huddle attack at a frantic pace; had them facing pressure defenses and tight coverages.

And to add to the heat of the moment, he tossed in some loud and critical commentary.

When Montana almost threw an interception on the first pass of the scrimmage, Sarkisian worked up a lather. It established the tempo and level of expectation for the entire practice.

“I want to make sure our energy level is right and where it needs to be,” Sarkisian said. “Sometimes that has to come from me to set that tone.”

And if it pressurizes a callow quarterback ... well, all the better.

“I like to create a little bit of chaos for them and see who responds, who can remain focused yet upbeat and energetic, and who gets frazzled,” Sarkisian said. “It’s a constant evaluation.”

OK, for the quarterback evaluation: Sarkisian said he likes the progress the two are making, but thought Saturday’s action featured more mental mistakes than they had been making.

We don’t have to be as circumspect as the coach. It’s too early for any big judgments, especially in the case of Montana, who is still barely out of the larval stage as a college quarterback.

But from the sideline, it looks as if Price has a definite edge at this point – as he probably should. He’s more polished, comfortable and consistent, and has better zip and flight on his passes.

He’s quick and nifty, too, when he gets pressured out of the pocket.

Montana somehow looks better when the pressure is on in live situations than he does in unhurried passing drills. Several times, when things broke down, he bought time and found receivers for nice gains. He also had several passes that should have been intercepted.

The two are good-natured, confident and mature in interview situations, and both seem genuine in the way they talk about their competition, viewing it as a way two teammates can help make each other better.

Price said he’s focusing on “playing faster in my mind,” while Montana said he needs the most improvement on defense recognition.

What both are quickly learning is the value of a group of big tight ends with good hands. Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Michael Hartvigson and Evan Hudson all had nice catches on Saturday.

Gig Harbor’s Seferian-Jenkins continues to be a hot topic as he makes catch after catch despite being an early-admit freshman who has been on campus only two weeks.

Montana said, “... he’s ridiculous; it’s hard to throw a bad ball to him, he’s such a big target.”

He’s not just big, but he has an impressive catch radius, being able to go high to get the balls that good tight ends normally do but also able to get down and pull in the ones below the knee that can be tough for big receivers.

A physical, sure-handed tight end can be “a quarterback’s best friend,” Sarkisian said, especially in the blustery conditions common at Husky Stadium, where long passes to wide receivers easily can get blown off target.

Both quarterbacks had a number of passes tipped at the line of scrimmage, and also were sacked more than a few times. But both also made some heady completions under heavy duress.

But that’s what spring practice scrimmages are for ... the constant evaluation that Sarkisian referenced. And if it feels chaotic now, it’s only to prepare them for how it will feel on Saturdays in the fall.


Left tackle Senio Kelemete went to the sideline early and had a protective boot put on his right foot. The senior has been dealing with a pulled plantar fascia. Sarkisian said the injury “popped” on Saturday, which he said is an expected and welcomed part of the healing process. He could not speculate on how long it will slow Kelemete. … Saturday’s work on the no-huddle offense was also good for the Huskies’ defense, Sarkisian said, as it is good exposure to the kind of pace used so often by other teams in the Pacific-10 Conference. … Junior cornerback Desmond Trufant made a number of nice pass breakups and had one play that looked ready to be turned into an interception return for a touchdown. He dropped it, however. Long after practice was finished, Trufant was still working on his hands, taking passes from the machine that fires one after another at him.

Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 dave.boling@thenewstribune.com

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