Coach Sark and Huskies Begin Spring Practice

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by CHRIS EGAN/ KING 5 SPORTS

KING5.com

Posted on April 3, 2012 at 8:04 AM

SEATTLE (AP) -- Steve Sarkisian noted recently that he couldn't believe he was already entering his fourth season at Washington.

While Sarkisian may now be one of the more established Pac-12 coaches in terms of tenure at their current school, he in many ways is beginning anew with the 2012 season that got fully under way Monday with the start of spring practice.

After three seasons of relative stability on his coaching staff, Sarkisian and the Huskies are now integrating five new coaches -- including new coordinators on both sides of the ball -- and undertaking a nearly complete overhaul of a defense that ranked among the worst in school history a year ago.

So while Monday was as much about getting helmets back on and players getting used to practices at 8 a.m., it was a get-to-know-you session as well with Sarkisian getting the first look at his new coaches working with players on the field.

"I kind of get along with these guys really well already. My comfort level is good with them," Sarkisian said. "Obviously, understanding their coaching style might take a minute but I think I have a pretty good idea."

Sarkisian fired the majority of his defensive staff after the Huskies' 67-56 Alamo Bowl loss to Heisman Trophy-winner Robert Griffin III and Baylor.

Gone are defensive coordinator Nick Holt, linebackers coach Mike Cox and defensive backs coach Jeff Mills. In their place, Sarkisian brought Justin Wilcox back to the Northwest, nabbing the Tennessee defensive coordinator to take the same position with the Huskies. Along with Wilcox came linebackers coach Peter Sirmon. Sarkisian then convinced recruiting guru Tosh Lupoi to bolt from California for Washington to be the defensive line coach, and he brought in Keith Heyward from Oregon State to coach the secondary.

But then came the wrench in Sarkisian's plans when former offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier took the same job at Alabama. Sarkisian tapped into the California coaching staff again, bringing Eric Kiesau to Seattle. So far, the offensive transition is going smoothly.

"I love it. Everything is different. It keeps everyone guessing. It keeps everyone excited," running back Jesse Callier said.

The new coaches are already leaving an imprint on the Huskies. Most notable was Washington's apparent shift to a 3-4 look on the defensive side. While Sarkisian said it won't always be a true 3-4 alignment, it will often give that impression based off the different fronts used by the defensive line.

Wilcox and his new staff are being asked to fix not only the defensive issues from a year ago, which saw the Huskies give up nearly 36 points per game, but also to repair the psyche. That was evident almost immediately when the defense won a team period on Monday and whooped and hollered like they had just beaten a rival.

"It's about not only learning a defense but building some morale back up on that side of the ball with some of those guys," Sarkisian said.

There are offensive holes to plug, too. The Huskies said goodbye to leading rusher Chris Polk, who bypassed his senior season to enter the NFL draft early after running for 1,535 yards and 12 touchdowns. And the Huskies are dealing with a skeleton crew along the offensive line due to injuries that left Washington with just 10 healthy linemen for the start of practice.

But they do have stability at the most important position because of the return of quarterback Keith Price. A year ago, Price entered spring practice competing with Nick Montana in the race to replace Jake Locker.

Price won easily then had one of the finest seasons ever by a Washington quarterback, throwing for 3,063 yards and a school-record 33 touchdowns, all while battling knee injuries most of the year.

Price is finally healthy after a restful offseason that was partly focused on getting his legs stronger to handle more wear.

"My injuries were like six-to-eight weeks and I was playing the next week," Price said. "So it was a matter of me getting off my feet and getting rested."

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