SEATTLE — Lots of things make Keith Price laugh. Questions about a quarterback competition this spring are among them.
It’s the prime topic to open Washington’s spring football practice. Can Price be fixed? What was wrong with him last season? Which touted recruit on the depth chart can take his place?
Backup-quarterback syndrome is not exclusive to the Seahawks.
“It’s kind of like you guys (reporters) pushing it,” Price said. “I mean, hey, that’s entertainment for the fans and that’s entertainment for you guys, and you’re doing your jobs.”
If logic were to ever trump sports-talk radio screaming, a rational conclusion that Price’s talent level lies somewhere between his first and second full-time seasons would be reached.
In 2011, he set multiple records and finished with one of the best games by a quarterback in
Washington history when he accounted for seven touchdowns (three running, four passing) in the Alamo Bowl.
Last season, Price took a step back. He completed 60.9 percent of his passes, good for the fourth-best mark in school history, despite a fluctuating offensive line and the departure of reliable wide receivers Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar to the NFL.
Price offset his solid, if reduced, passing numbers with soul-sucking turnovers. At Oregon early. In the Apple Cup during overtime. Fumbles on the move or while in the pocket. Interceptions off bad reads or bad decisions.
From an average quarterback, they were baffling. From someone labeled as having a shot to join the Heisman Trophy race, they were harrowing.
At times, he sat red-eyed after games. Price was desperate for solutions. He couldn’t figure out what was happening and why, often explaining he believed it was “God’s plan” for him.
One place he turned for answers was former Washington quarterbacks coach Doug Nussmeier, now the offensive coordinator for national champion Alabama. Price would call Nussmeier, who revamped his throwing motion and taught him the Huskies’ system, weekly.
This year, the fifth-year senior will be turning to former Washington star Marques Tuiasosopo, who was hired as the Huskies’ new quarterbacks coach. The two have a prior relationship from Tuiasosopo’s first stint on the staff as an assistant strength coach from 2009-10.
Tuiasosopo watched from afar while he worked as UCLA’s tight ends coach last season. He read the stories about Price’s struggles. This winter he watched video for a closer look.
“Was it great? I don’t know if I would say it was great. It wasn’t terrible either,” Tuiasosopo said. “A lot of differences from two years ago to last year. A lot of good young players, but different players.
“I think after having such a great bowl game and outside expectations, I think maybe he put a little too much pressure on himself. I think he’s moved on. We’ve all moved on.”
To do so, Price put his legs to work in the offseason. He has done more squats over the winter instead of letting his legs rest to heal, the way he did before the 2012 season.
Price says his weight is up to 206 pounds; that the ball is easier to throw because he’s more sturdy.
He also says Tuiasosopo, who snapped at Price when he celebrated a deep touchdown pass too much in the first spring practice, is just like Nussmeier in his critiques.
Price will be overseeing Washington’s new preferred up-tempo offense. The Huskies used it on occasion last season and are running repeated no-huddle reps this spring.
“It gets me going,” Price said. “It fits our team.”
There is also mental tinkering going on. Price’s effusiveness when he won a quarterback competition with Nick Montana, who has since transferred, endeared him to fans as much as his stellar first-year play.
That went away at times last season. He and coach Steve Sarkisian fought to get it back. Week after week, talk of the “Keith Price of old” was a subject, whether it was Sarkisian saying they needed to get back to that or Price being asked where that person was.
“I thought as we endured some of our struggles last year as a team we tried to manufacture the Keith Price of old, and that’s not how it works,” Sarkisian said this week. “It’s developed through confidence, through belief, to where it exudes out of him and it’s not trying to be created superficially.”
Tuesday, Price was the last player off the field after the chilly spring practice opener. Before laughing off suggestions younger players are on his tail for his starting spot, Price ran with zip and joy during practice with quiet Lake Washington to his left and resting Husky Stadium to his right.
Price was done with the night’s work around 10:30. He left knowing the clock is yet to strike midnight, though it’s getting close.
“We have been through a lot together, and we’ve got one chapter left and we want to make this thing a great ending,” Sarkisian said. “I hope for him that that happens.”firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports @Todd_Dybas