When UW head coach Steve Sarkisian talks about his spring football priorities, he starts with “ground zero,” which means a total overhaul of the worst defense in school history.
Three times per week for the next four weeks, the University of Washington football team will engage in spring practice with an overriding emphasis on improving what was, in 2011, one of the worst defensive units ever foisted upon a paying public. The practice sessions conclude April 28 with the annual spring game, this year at CenturyLink Field.
The first of Washington’s weekly Monday-Wednesday-Friday exercises occurred Monday on the field east of Husky Stadium, currently undergoing renovation. Due to space limitations, all practices except two will be closed to the public. The exceptions are the April 21 scrum at 11 a.m. April 21 at Memorial Stadium in the Seattle Center, and the April 28 spring game.
“We are starting at ground zero on the defensive side of the ball,” said head coach Steve Sarkisian. “We have to teach every aspect from it, from stance and start and alignment and assignment.”
Monday’s practice marked the first assembly of the football team since Dec. 29, when the Huskies endured a 67-56 whipping by Baylor in the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, an embarrassing result that prompted Sarkisian to ax three defensive coaches, including defensive coordinator and Sarkisian chum Nick Holt.
Sarkisian replaced Holt with Justin Wilcox, who was working at the University of Tennessee. Sarkisian brought aboard defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi (defensive line), much to the University of California’s chagrin. Two other defensive coaching additions: Peter Sirmon (linebackers) who toiled alongside Wilcox at Tennessee, and Keith Heyward (defensive backs) imported from Oregon State.
Sarkisian also hired Eric Keisau from the Golden Bears in January to serve as the Huskies’ offensive coordinator after Doug Nussmeier left to call plays for Alabama.
The defensive coaches will be tasked with improving a unit that ranked 106th nationally in 2011 in total yards allowed (453.31 per game) and 108th in points allowed (35.92). The points set a school record.
The five new Sarkisian underlings will earn the majority of the $2.73 million that UW has committed to pay its nine assistant coaches.
“I’m excited,” said Sarkisian, who celebrated his 38th birthday three weeks ago and is entering his fourth year as UW’s head coach. “Shoot, I’ve got five new coaches I get to work with that I haven’t been on the field with before. For me, this is kind of refreshing in a sense that I’ve still got to coach, yet I want to learn.
“So it’s a big spring on a lot of fronts that way, because I want to make sure that when we come back in fall camp that we’re really a well-oiled machine when we hit that field.”
The Huskies return seven starters from a defense that allowed 40 or more points seven times in 13 games and twice yielded more than 60. They will also welcome a number of highly touted recruits, including Shaquille Thompson of Sacramento, widely touted as the top prep safety in the nation.
“We are just trying to maximize the personnel we have,” said Sarkisian, “and also the teams we play against and what they do. . . . I think this will be a very player-friendly system where they (defensive players) can go out and play fast and physical and allow some of our younger players to get involved earlier in their careers.”
Offensively, major losses are RB Chris Polk and receivers Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar. That trio scored more than half — 30 of 47 — of Washington’s touchdowns last season.
Washington will play 12 regular-season games, starting with a CenturyLink contest Sept. 1 against San Diego State and ending with Washington State Nov. 23 in Pullman — the day after Thanksgiving Due to the Pac-12’s unbalanced schedule, the Huskies will not play conference members UCLA and Arizona State.
The Huskies’ big intersectional is Sept. 8, when UW travels to Baton Rouge to face Louisiana State.
University of Washington 2012 Schedule
|Date||Opponent||UW Rnk||Opp Rnk||W/L||Score||Rec.|
|9/01/1||vs. SD State||—||—||—||—||—|
|9/15/12||vs. Portland St.||—||—||—||—||—|
|10/27/12||vs. Oregon St.||—||—||—||—||—|
|11/12/11||at Southern Cal||—||—||—||—||—|