Updated Mar 4, 2013 - 1:02 am
Spring practice provides big opportunity for Keith Price
By Brock Huard
Roughly a year ago I wrote that Keith Price would have a much more challenging 2012 season. My premise was that the losses of dependable people around him coupled with a brutal stretch of opponents to open the season would make a repeat of his record-breaking 2011 performance nearly impossible.
Unfortunately for the Huskies and its rabid fan base, the season unraveled early and the unshakable quarterback of 2011 never found his rhythm and footing in 2012.
Spring ball begins anew Tuesday night, and all eyes will be clearly fixed on the quarterback position. Marques Tuiasosopo will be running the position group, and the most talented quintet on the team has some promising underclassmen chomping at the bit to show what they can do.
Will the price be right for the redshirt senior? And what must he do to regain his form and keep the young kids at bay? There are clearly three areas of emphasis worth watching this spring.
I know first-hand the challenges of playing quarterback when trust breaks down in pass protection. My 1998 season was marred with fundamental breakdowns, as was Price's 2012 campaign. As the hits and sacks mounted, especially in the first five weeks of the season, Price's clock in his head went haywire. Plays that were routine in 2011 became a chore in 2012, so much so that following the 52-17 blowout loss at Arizona, his head coach was left to wonder about the trust in their play-calling relationship.
As for the growth in the pocket that Price must show this spring, Steve Sarkisian joined our show two weeks ago and said, "We have to protect the passer better. We have to get [Price's] confidence to where he's standing firm in the pocket. I think the offseason conditioning for him was important in really emphasizing his lower half from a weight-training standpoint to become as explosive an athlete as he can be."
Simulating a live pocket in any practice mode is difficult, but I would expect plenty of blitz periods and as many full-speed practice situations as possible, not just for Price but the inexperienced passers behind him, too. Resetting his quarterback clock, playing with more explosive movement in and out of the pocket and trusting the call/protection in front of him will be vital for Price to show his coach and team he is back to his record-breaking form.
Keith Price's struggles last season were particularly pronounced on first down, where his passing efficiency rating dropped 58 points from 2011. (AP)
"Figures don't lie, liars figure," as the real estate adage goes.
As for last season, there was no fudging necessary for the Huskies and their struggles offensively. Price went from seventh in passing efficiency in 2011 to 80th last season. Washington was 97th overall in total offense and 102nd (out of 120) in allowing roughly three sacks a game. The fumbles, the sacks, the penalties (118th overall) and the interceptions led to another 7-6 season. But for Price, the most glaring challenge was first down.
This shouldn't come as any great surprise, but the numbers are alarming. After all, in 2011 the depth and breadth of attack was so much greater on first down with Chris Polk as a running and receiving threat, a bevy of wide receivers, the emergence of Austin Seferian-Jenkins and a capable play-action game that could protect long enough to take shots down the field.
While Bishop Sankey flourished as the season went on, the wide receiver depth, protection, play pass and shots downfield diminished to the point that first down became a major issue.
In 2011, Price completed nearly 70 percent of his first-down throws with 13 touchdowns, just three interceptions and eight sacks. The output led to a efficiency rating of 177.6. In 2012, the rating dropped 58 points with only a 61 percent completion rate and five touchdowns to four interceptions. The sack rate also more than doubled, as Price was taken to the ground 18 times on first down.
Much like the emphasis on pocket awareness, first-down situations in the spring can be hard to evaluate. Yet much of the early-down offense at this time is typically the base installation. It is the core fundamentals of the playbook, and will be critical for the young guns to grasp completely if they want to challenge the incumbent. In some ways, the base, early-down offense will not only be critical for Price, but it may also provide the best apples-to-apples comparison amidst the quarterback competition.
Regaining the "it" factor
Twenty-three of 37, 438 yards and four touchdowns passing along with three more rushing scores. That was the stat line when Price outplayed Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin in the 2011 Alamo Bowl. Granted, Baylor's defense was porous, but Price was electric and oozed with confidence. He had "it" and then more "it."
Fast forward 15 months and Price is in the prove-it mode. As Sarkisian told me last week on the air, "How exciting of a time is it for Keith Price, to come back with plenty to prove to himself, regardless of anybody else, but to himself, of what he's capable of doing on the football field. That's a big focus of ours because we know when he's really good, we're really good."
Many think Cyler Miles is really good, too. Troy Williams was one of the top prep passers on the West Coast and he enrolled early so he could compete beginning Tuesday night. Jeff Lindquist was also an Elite 11 high school quarterback. The incumbent has the experience, the freshmen have the upside and hope.
This is clearly Price's job to lose in a year where expectations are at a championship level. The supporting cast is seasoned, and the schedule is favorable. Year five for Sarkisian feels a lot like year three did for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks. For Price, he must do what Matt Flynn couldn't – not open the door even a little for a young talent to emerge.
Bonneville Media encourages site users to express their opinions by posting comments. Our goal is to maintain a civil dialogue in which readers feel comfortable. At times, the comments can descend to personal attacks. Please do not engage in such behavior. We encourage your thoughtful comments which: have a positive and constructive tone, are on topic, are respectful toward others and their opinions. Bonneville reserves the right to remove comments which do not conform to these criteria.