SEATTLE -- Steve Sarkisian began his fourth fall camp in charge at Washington on Monday with 12 seniors on his 103-man roster and significant questions about whether a complete defensive staff makeover can yield better results than a year ago.
But even with a roster filled with underclassmen, Sarkisian said before the Huskies hit the practice field for the first time that the youth isn't a concern since many of those now juniors and sophomore were forced to play early in their careers.
I feel like we're becoming a more mature football team. I know sometimes the age is the issue and we don't have many seniors and all those things but I think we have experience and sometimes experience outweighs age, Sarkisian said. We've had a lot of guys that have played quite a bit of football for us since their true freshman, true sophomore years that are now in their junior season, or sophomore season, that have experience that we can rely on.
That Keith Price is back after one of the most dynamic seasons ever by a Washington quarterback gives Sarkisian a bit of comfort. Price, now a junior, threw for 3,063 yards and a school-record 33 touchdowns as a sophomore and capped his year with a dynamic performance in the Alamo Bowl when Price accounted for seven touchdowns and threw for 438 yards in the Huskies 67-56 loss to Baylor.
But having stability at the most important position on offense doesn't solve all of the Huskies' problems before their opener against San Diego State on Sept. 1.
Offensively, Washington will likely be breaking in three new starters on the offensive line, seeking complementary receiver to go with Kasen Williams and trying to find someone to make up for all the touchdowns and yards running back Chris Polk churned out in his career.
On the defensive side, the only known is that it will be difficult for the Huskies to be any worse than a year ago when they gave up school-records in total points and yards per game allowed. That was at the crux of Sarkisian's massive overhaul with the firing of Nick Holt and hiring of Justin Wilcox to try and solve the problems. Spring practice brought some indications of what Wilcox will do differently with the Huskies using more varied, hybrid fronts rather than sticking with the traditional 4-3 defense Holt ran.
Sarkisian said he felt his players were challenged by what Wilcox and the new defensive staff presented during the spring and the response was what he was hoping to see.
One, these guys are competitive. They've responded to the challenges that the new staff presented to them this spring. They were extremely competitive, and we saw that in the spring game especially. Our ability to believe that we're going to make plays, especially in the back end, with the 1-on-1 matchups and the competitive nature that they brought, Sarkisian said. Two, that they're probably a little bit more talented than what they first thought coming in. And three, the consciousness that our guys had to want to do things right, and to want to learn and want to be sound. With that, collectively, there's a real willingness on our entire football team.
One of the biggest questions during fall camp will be what Washington does with freshman safety Shaq Thompson and if he'll move directly into a starting position. Thompson was one of the top defensive recruits in the country and a coup for the Huskies in the final days before national signing day after Thompson had initially given a verbal commitment to California.
Thompson spent his summer playing baseball in the Boston Red Sox minor league system and didn't fare well, going 0 for 39 with 37 strikeouts in 13 games for the Red Sox rookie-league team in the Gulf Coast League.
He looks in shape. He cleared his physical. But you've got to give me a couple of days, Sarkisian said. I don't know exactly what we are getting. We're going to put him out there in different scenarios, different situations, just like all of our freshmen will.