Washington Huskies: Austin Seferian-Jenkins
First off, quarterbacks are excluded to make things more interesting. It goes without saying, for example, that Oregon's Marcus Mariota is the Ducks' most important player.
And most important doesn't necessarily have to be "best." An All-American's backup can be pretty darn good, too.
Our most important guys are players who could swing a win total one way or the other, based on their living up to expectations. Or their absence.
Washington: S Sean Parker
2012 production: Tallied 77 tackles, 3.5 tackles for a loss and two interceptions with six passes defended. He also forced three fumbles.
Why Parker is so important: As stated above, quarterbacks are excluded from this series. But we never said anything about excluding the quarterback of the defense. And that's exactly what Sean Parker is for the Huskies -- a quarterback at safety who headlines a surging secondary.
There are a lot of different directions to go with the Huskies. Running back Bishop Sankey is an obvious choice. He's a 1,400-yard rusher who has quickly climbed from by-committee option to A-list playmaker. Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are strong options as well.
Defensively, there are some good linebacker options in Shaq Thompson, John Timu or Travis Feeney. All could fill this space.
But Parker, who was selected by his teammates as a captain last year, is the guy who makes everything click.
"Tremendous player. Great leader. Really exemplifies what we want back there," said head coach Steve Sarkisian.
As documented, the Huskies' defense made huge strides in 2012 -- particularly in the secondary -- in their first year under defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox. And if they hope to be a Top-25 team -- as many have them slated -- that defense will have to keep improving. Parker will have to keep improving.
He stepped up in some of Washington's biggest games last year. He forced a fumble, had five tackles and a tackle for a loss in the win over Stanford. Against Oregon State he broke up three passes and had an interception that stopped an early drive deep in Washington territory.
This year's schedule isn't quite as daunting. But they still play in the Pac-12 North and they have to travel to Arizona State and UCLA -- not to mention the home opener against Boise State in a rematch of last year's bowl game. But there is plenty of leadership on the Huskies this year and Parker, an all-league honorable mention pick last season, is considered the leader of the leaders.
He's started in all 13 games each of the last two seasons and has been through the peaks and valleys of the program. The Huskies have a chance to ascend to peaks they haven't reached in a decade. If they do, chances are Parker plays a huge role in getting them there.
2012 record: 7-6
2012 conference record: 5-4 (Fourth in North Division)
Returning starters: Offense 10; Defense 8; Kicker/punter: 2
Top returners: QB Keith Price, RB Bishop Sankey, WR Kasen Williams, TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, DB Sean Parker, LB John Timu, DE Josh Shirley, LB Shaq Thompson.
Key losses: CB Desmond Trufant, DB Justin Glenn, C Drew Schaefer, FB Jonathan Amosa.
2012 statistical leaders (*returners)
Rushing: Bishop Sankey* (1,439)
Passing: Keith Price* (2,726)
Receiving: Kasen Williams* (878)
Tackles: John Timu* (91)
Sacks: Josh Shirley*; Andrew Hudson* (6.5)
Interceptions: Justin Glenn, Shaq Thompson*, Marcus Peters* (3)
- Picking up the pace: We know the Huskies spent the spring installing a new up-tempo offense. How much of it was installed and how comfortable the players are running it remains to be seen. But Steve Sarkisian has made a point that his team needs to 1) do a better job keeping up with the up-tempo offenses in the league and 2) do a better job keeping teams on their heels. This philosophical switch seems to address both since the defense has been practicing against an up-tempo offense.
- Starting five: Many believe this is the best team Sarkisian has had since coming to Washington. And part of that might be that he finally has a healthy offensive line with quality depth behind the starters. The group of Micah Hatchie (LT), Dexter Charles (LG), Mike Criste (C), James Atoe (RG) and Ben Riva (RT) worked as the first-team starting five all spring. And former starters Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa, along with experienced backup Shane Brostek, give the Huskies quantity and quality up front.
- Progress of Price: The breakout player of 2011 and embattled starter of 2012, Keith Price, quickly shook off whispers of a quarterback competition with a strong spring that left Sarkisian feeling good about his third-year starter. He distanced himself from would-be challengers and, if he can return to that 2011 form, could have Washington in the top 25.
- After Price: It looks like Cyler Miles has established himself as No. 2 in the quarterback hierarchy, but the battle to be Price's understudy will continue into the fall with Derrick Brown and Jeff Lindquist still in the mix. The Huskies were one of only four teams in the conference last year to have the same quarterback start every game. So Price has proven his durability. But having a clear pecking order behind the starter can be equally important.
- Replacing Trufant: No easy task to replace Desmond Trufant, a staple in the Washington defensive backfield who at one point started 45 straight games. Marcus Peters is all but locked in on one side, leaving Greg Ducre and Travell Dixon battling it out on the other side. Tre Watson will also be in the mix.
- ASJ MIA: How long will Austin Seferian-Jenkins, the Pac-12's top tight end, be out? Will he miss any games? He's been suspended indefinitely stemming from his DUI arrest and many are wondering if he'll miss at least the season opener against Boise State. Sarkisian pointed to the silver lining of the situation -- noting that his absence has allowed others at the position to get extensive work this spring. He also said Seferian-Jenkins is taking all of the proper steps to rejoin the team. There is little doubt he'll be the most dominant tight end in the league in 2013, and probably the country. The timetable for his return will be of great interest in the coming months.
I know every coach has a laundry list of things that they want to get done in spring. But was there one particular thing you felt like you wanted to address?
Elaine Thompson/AP PhotoCoach Steve Sarkisian says the Washington Huskies had a successful spring season, despite some distractions along the way.
Where's your confidence level with [quarterback] Keith [Price]?
SS: I felt great about Keith coming out of spring, quite honestly. Of the 15 practices we had, he might have had one that wasn't his best and another where he was just OK. But outside of that I thought he was fantastic. Bringing Marques Tuiasosopo back on board as a quarterbacks coach -- he's a guy I coached in the NFL at Oakland and he was with us here for two years when we first came on board -- bringing him back has been good and the style of coaching he has is what I'm looking for and it's consistent with myself. Keith has really responded to that. He came out and had a really good spring. He's upbeat about what we're doing offensively. I think he feels good about what we're doing up front with the offensive line and also with the wideouts and the running back situation. That genuine confidence that he has in himself, as well as his confidence in what's going on around him, is as high as it's been.
You talked about the offensive line. It seems like you guys finally have healthy depth. How nice has it been to have the same five working with the offense and then knowing you've still got Erik [Kohler] and Colin [Tanigawa] waiting in the wings?
SS: It's been huge. For myself and Dan Cozzetto, our offensive line coach, just the continuity up front of having those five guys communicate with one another, playing with one another, making decisions with one another on the fly has been big. But also for us, having depth -- and not just depth in number -- but depth in experience. You look at Colin Tanigawa. You look at Erik Kohler. Shane Brostek is a backup who has a lot of game experience as well. Really, we have eight offensive linemen who have a lot of game experience against some top-level talent who could step in and play, as well as some younger guys who are really developing. We feel really good about that position group as long as we can stay healthy.
I talked with Bishop [Sankey] a couple of weeks ago and all he wanted to talk about was how he needs to get better at everything -- very little about what he's already accomplished. What's the next step for him?
SS: Bishop is a great kid. Everyone sees what he did on the field and they see how he progressed and got better and better as the year went on and the maturity he exuded -- not only through the tough times early on -- but also in the good times late in the year for himself. The beauty of it all is you turn around and look at our GPA -- he had the highest on the team with a 3.8.
He didn't mention that when we talked.
SS: He'd be the first not to tell you that. He's such a humble kid. But it's everything he does. And it's not just on the field. It's in the classroom, it's in the community. We're seeing now more than ever the leadership he possesses, and I'm really proud of what he's been able to accomplish. I think his best days are ahead of him. There's a lot he can improve on and he's working hard at improving and we're working hard to make him better.
How much of a distraction has the situation with Austin [Seferian-Jenkins] been this spring?
SS: It really wasn't bad. Especially internally. At the end of the day, we touched on this with the team, guys are going to make mistakes. I deal with 18-to-22-year-old males and I've got 105 sons on this roster. To think that all 105 aren't going to make mistakes in a four-to-five year span isn't reality. What I do know, and what our team knows, is that Austin is a really good guy. He's done a great deal for our community. He's a good student. He just got over a 3.0 as well. He's been working hard and was having a good offseason. But he made a mistake. Is that mistake truly indicative of Austin's character? No, it's not. We all understand that. We all have to learn from the mistake he made, unfortunately. But we're moving on. We practiced 12 times without Austin. It was actually good for us. It allowed some of the other guys in his position group to develop and improve. And when the time is right for him to re-join us, he'll re-join us and we'll move on.
You guys were really two different teams when you were at home versus on the road last year. I know there is no magic-bullet answer, but what do you need to do to improve the road play?
SS: We have to continually try to expand our comfort zone. We're obviously a very good team when we're in the friendly confines -- whether it's CenturyLink Field or Husky Stadium -- I think what's key for us is no matter where we go, who we play, what time the game is, what the weather is that we go play Husky football. That's something we've talked about since the locker room of the Las Vegas Bowl, quite honestly, and we continue to talk about it every single day. That won't change.
Speaking of Husky Stadium, what are you expecting from the fans, and what's the game day experience going to be like for them?
SS: I would rival the game day experience with any other school in the country. I had a chance to go through it [last week] and I'm still blown away every time I go in there. I think the proximity to the fans and how close they'll be to the field is going to enhance the game day experience for the fans and for our players. From a crowd noise standpoint. From an energy standpoint they'll provide, it will be a great environment. To go along with the setting of Lake Washington and Montlake Boulevard, I don't know what's better out there in college football.
The defense was much better last year. What's the next step for them as a unit?
SS: I think we have to continue to be an opportunistic defense -- one that creates turnovers. We did a great job of that last year. Continue being really sticky in pass defense. You have to be in our conference with so many people throwing the football. And play really good red-zone defense. Those are three areas we drastically improved last season. To continue to build upon that; our ability to defend the up-tempo offense is going to be big for us; and our ability to disrupt quarterbacks -- whether that's sacks or knockdowns, things of that nature -- playing in the offensive backfield more than we had last season are two areas we're very focused on. We focused on that this spring and we'll continue to focus on it in the fall. Defending the up-tempo offense and then wreaking havoc in the offensive backfield.
Whose name are we going to be hearing in 2013 that we didn't hear about in 2012?
SS: I think a name to keep an eye on is a kid who redshirted for us last year and I think can be a playmaker for us in the defensive backfield and in the return game is Cleveland Wallace. He's a guy that possess a really high football IQ. He has a knack for being around the football. He really improved this spring. I think he's a guy to keep an eye on.
This is not whether the team of the day can win the Pac-12. And we're not predicting any winners. Rather, this is our take on the team's chances of winning the North or South.
Buy or sell Washington winning the North?
Steven Bisig/US PresswireBishop Sankey and the Huskies will have a tough time overtaking Oregon and Stanford in the North.
But I don't think the Huskies overtake the Oregon/Stanford tandem. If the Cardinal doesn't win the North Division, the Ducks will. And vice versa. That's my entirely predictable and justifiable position. I don't expect any so-called pundits to project it differently.
You know: Just like USC was a certainty in the South last season.
As we all know -- see those pesky 2012 Trojans -- there are no sure things. So if the Ducks and Cardinal were to both slip, I do see Washington as owning the best chance of clawing to the top.
Why? There are 20 returning starters from a 7-6 team that beat Stanford and Oregon State. There are intriguing guys coming off the injury list. I suspect quarterback Keith Price has a bounce back this fall, looking far closer to the guy he was in 2011 than he was in 2012. He certainly can expect better offensive line play (if everyone stays healthy).
Further, there's plenty of star power: tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins, running back Bishop Sankey, receiver Kasen Williams, nose tackle Danny Shelton and linebacker Shaq Thompson. I like the idea of Year 2 with defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox.
Yet for all that, I don't see the Huskies winning the North.
We should have a good idea of things by mid-October. The Huskies should be 4-0 when they visit Stanford on Oct. 5. If they were somehow to win that game and improve to 5-0, Oregon's visit the next weekend to renovated Husky Stadium might be the biggest thing in Montlake since … 1991.
To be honest, I can't adequately describe how much Washington fans would salivate over that one. This is the nastiest rivalry in the Pac-12, and the Ducks have won nine consecutive games in that nasty rivalry by at least 17 points. That is the cruelest bane for all who wear purple. Not surprisingly, Oregon fans have not been shy about pointing that out to Huskies fans, who have had few counter-tweaks of late.
The Pac-12 blog might need to add bandwidth for that week. I get warm-fuzzies just thinking about stirring that pot… ah, bliss.
But, really, think about what that means: The Huskies beating top-5 teams back-to-back.
Just don't see it happening. Been wrong before. But probably not this time. Maybe.
even before his breakout game against Boise State in the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. I promise here and now that he will be on the preseason Top 25 list (unless Pitt somehow finds a way to block it).
But what scares me the most about Washington this season is the travel. When it was playing in CenturyLink last season -- there was something special about this team. Or maybe it was just the effect the NFL stadium had on opponents. Whatever it was, Washington was a top 15 team when playing at home -- going 5-1 with its only loss to USC.
There, the Huskies beat top 10 teams Stanford and Oregon State. Stanford coach David Shaw told me it was the third loudest game he'd ever experienced. The second was a trip to Autzen, and the first was an NFL playoff game.
The acoustics at the newly minted Husky Stadium might prove to be as tympanicly torturous as those at The CLink. Too bad some of Washington's biggest games aren't at home. Last season Washington was 2-5 away from Seattle, with its only victories coming at Cal and Colorado.
This season it is at Stanford (and I don't think there is any need to rehash what happened last time the Huskies traveled to The Farm). Then it's home to Oregon -- and I don't think there is any need to rehash the recent history of that rivalry. Oh wait, Ted already did. Then they are at Arizona State -- a team that will contend for the Pac-12 South and poses a defensive front that rivals Stanford's.
Then it's at UCLA and at Oregon State in back-to-back games before closing out the season with the Apple Cup at home. We're expecting UCLA and Oregon State to also be top 25 teams. That means four of Washington's five road games this season are against potentially ranked teams. For a team with a history of troubles away from home, this doesn't bode particularly well.
As Ted notes, and I concur, the Huskies should be a better team in 2013. But until they show they can notch quality road wins, a buy rating feels like a stretch.
When Steve Sarkisian was hired as the coach at Washington, he needed to find the right players to fit with the program he envisioned.
With each class he has compiled, Sarkisian has done a good job of finding the right pieces. Those players -- products of four straight top 25 recruiting classes -- have produced three straight trips to bowl games and have the Huskies poised to take the next step in 2013.
Here are five key commitments who helped point Washington in the right direction under Sarkisian:
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After signing four straight top 25 recruiting classes, Washington is now expected to put a top 25 team on the field.
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He was arrested in Seattle -- in an area known as the University District -- and was released from the precinct, which isn't uncommon.
Here's the full statement from Washington head coach Steve Sarkisian:
“We are aware of an incident that occurred Saturday evening involving Austin Seferian-Jenkins. We are taking the matter very seriously. Austin made decisions that fall short of our expectations for student-athletes who represent the University of Washington. He will be disciplined internally in accordance with team and departmental policies. We will continue to support Austin throughout this process, while also holding him accountable and responsible for his actions.”
A Washington official said through email that neither Sarkisian, Seferian-Jenkins or any other department officials would have further comment.
Seferian-Jenkins, a finalist for the Mackey Award last year for the nation's top tight ends, is again expected to be one of the nation's best at the position in 2013 and potentially a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Last year he caught 69 balls for 852 yards and seven touchdowns.
In the past, players at other Pac-12 schools who have had off-field issues have usually been suspended for a game or two to start the season. Washington opens its season Aug. 31 at newly-remodeled Husky Stadium against Boise State in a rematch of the MAACO Bowl Las Vegas. That's followed by a Sept. 14 trip to Soldier Field in Chicago against Illinois.
They make a quick transition from high school to college. They trade weightlifting sessions with high school teammates for training time with players who have spent years in the system.
They go from living at home to taking care of themselves. And then, right when they start to develop a routine, spring practice starts.
Tom Hauck/ESPNHSWashington coaches will look to see if true freshman QB Troy Williams can keep his hand steady during spring practices.
This is the challenge Washington freshmen Troy Williams and Trevor Walker face this week.
The four-star quarterback out of Harbor City (Calif.) Narbonne and the three-star safety from Arlington (Texas) Mansfield Timberview started their college careers in January when they enrolled at the university. Now, after two months in Seattle, the two prospects are practicing with the Huskies.
When asked about what the freshmen face this week, Sarkisian said the biggest challenge is finding a way to keep from getting too “wide-eyed.”
“For Troy and Trevor, I would just like to see them stay composed, keep their competitive nature and not be too hard on themselves,” Sarkisian said. “They’re going to have some ups and downs in the spring. That’s all part of it.”
Williams and Walker didn’t enroll early to stand on the sidelines and watch. The recruits want to find ways to contribute early in their careers.
As a safety, Walker fills a position of need for the Huskies and will get a chance to earn a spot to play in his first season.
“He’s a natural guy who is going to have some opportunities,” Sarkisian said. “That’s why he chose to come here, for the opportunities at that position.”
Williams will be thrust directly into a quarterback competition, one of several players who will get the chance to push senior Keith Price.
The goal is for the competition in the spring and fall to get Price to the point where he can regain his sophomore form. But Williams will get his share of snaps in spring practice and fall camp.
Back in 2010, running backs Deontae Cooper and Jesse Callier enrolled early. Then in 2011, tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins decided to get a head start on his college career. After watching those players go through the experience, Sarkisian said he wants to see the freshmen maintain their composure through the good and bad.
“They’re going to have some really flashy, high-flying plays that we’re all going to want to talk about and then they’re going to have some rough days where they aren’t at their best,” Sarkisian said.
“That’s all part of the process.”
- Senior Keith Price is the Huskies' starting quarterback. Unless he isn't.
- There is a lot of enthusiasm surrounding the Huskies' potential in 2013. And general frustration with the program.
AP Photo/Wily LowCoach Steve Sarkisian says Keith Price is the Huskies' starting quarterback in 2013 -- unless he loses it to four players trying to oust him.
This, coach Steve Sarkisian acknowledges.
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t be in a position to compete for a division championship," he said.
Sarkisian also acknowledged the Huskies' offensive struggles in 2012. While an equal share of the blame should go to poor offensive line play, which was aggravated by injury issues, the easy guy to point the finger at is Price, whose play decidedly regressed after a strong debut season in 2011.
Price went from a darkhorse Heisman Trophy contender to eighth in the Pac-12 in passing efficiency, trailing three first-year starters and California's oft-criticized Zach Maynard. The Huskies averaged just 24 points per game, down nine from the 2011 season.
"We need to get our offensive numbers back to where they were two years ago," Sarkisian said.
And that starts with Price. Unless it doesn't.
"Keith Price is our starting quarterback -- the goal is to get Keith Price back to playing the way he was two years ago," Sarkisian said. "But there are four guys behind him who are going to be chomping at the bit to get an opportunity to make this thing into a competition that either is going to push Keith to be better than he's been or, ultimately, try to surpass him."
So this is Price's job. Unless... "As I've said to Keith," Sarkisian said, "we're not going to be stubborn enough that if we think another guy is playing better that guy won't get that opportunity to beat him out."
Those four guys trying to raise an eyebrow at Price's expense: Redshirt freshmen Cyler Miles, Jeff Lindquist, sophomore Derrick Brown and true freshman Troy Williams.
The bottom line meaning behind Sarkisian's statements is fairly straightforward: 1. He wants Price to win the job; 2. But he wants the Huskies to win as many games as possible in a critical season for him and the program; 3. He's going to play the guy who gives him the best chance for No. 2.
The quarterbacks will be working with a new position coach, Marques Tuiasosopo, whose name immediately evokes pleasant memories for Huskies fans. He quarterbacked the program to a No. 3 final ranking after the 2000 season, the Huskies' last Rose Bowl victory. A former dual-threat player, he's got an NFL pedigree, an easy-going style and a natural follow-me-to-the-gold! ability to lead. He also will allow Sarkisian to be more big-picture with the offense.
If the Huskies get the Price of 2011 -- or someone else who can produce a top-10 in the nation passing efficiency rating -- there are a lot of toys to play with, starting with RB Bishop Sankey, WR Kasen Williams and TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins. A young offensive line that got pushed around in 2012 should be much better, and the (eventual) return of former starters Colin Tanigawa and Erik Kohler will provide another boost.
The dramatic improvement of the defense in Year 1 under coordinator Justin Wilcox also suggests strong reasons for optimism.
Of course, the program has been glutted with optimism the past few seasons. Seven wins were a revelation in 2010. Not so much in 2012, particularly when the Huskies blew their final two games, most notably a shocking fourth-quarter collapse against Washington State, something that Cougars fans never, ever, ever bring up these days.
Sarkisian, as is his wont, can find a silver lining even there.
"I don’t think that taste is going to go anywhere for awhile, which is OK," he said. "We lost two games that we should have won. The end result is we are sitting here talking about a 7-6 football team when we could have been here talking about a 9-4 football team. But I don’t know if that’s all bad. If we would have finished 9-4 and found a way to finish those last two games, I don’t know what January or February would have been like for us as a football team. We may have still been hungry and I would like to think so and striving for more. We might have grown a bit complacent. What I do know is there is zero complacency in our locker room right now."
That lack of complacency must start with Price. He needs to regain his mojo. The same could be said for Sarkisian.
Washington will open a remodeled Husky Stadium this fall, a facility that will immediately rank among the nation's best. That will add to the anticipation of a special season, one that Huskies fans have turned purple -- appropriately -- holding their collective breath anticipating.
Said Sarkisian of Price, "We've been through a lot together and we've got one chapter left that we want to make a great ending."
They signed two ESPN 150 standouts in receiver Kasen Williams (Sammamish, Wash./Skyline) and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Gig Harbor, Wash./Gig Harbor).
Keeping those prospects home was considered a big recruiting win for the Huskies, who signed 24 players that year, putting together a top 25 class. They beat out national powerhouses. It was a sure sign the program was on the rise.
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As the Huskies assembled their 2013 class, they wanted to pile up prospects who were capable of keeping defenses from focusing attention on standouts Kasen Williams and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins.
They brought in an explosive group.
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The 6-foot-5, 231-pound tight end had landed an offer from the Huskies prior to the program’s 34-15 win over Utah.
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So, after spending two days riding go-karts at K1 Speed and having dinner at the Columbia Tower, the trip exceeded anything the 6-foot, 195-pound walk-on commit could have imagined.
“It was amazing,” Turman said. “I didn’t think we were going to do all of the stuff we did. They took us to do things they’ve never done with recruits before and they said they never will. We took advantage of it.
“They took us to places I’ve never been to and never even knew about.”
Some of the key areas the Huskies identified as positions to pursue included receiver, running back, linebacker and defensive line. With six defensive linemen committed and three receivers heading to Seattle next season, Washington has stockpiled prospects at each position.
Help is on the way: Washington is pursuing a pass rush. The Huskies have a star in Danny Shelton, but ace recruiter Tosh Lupoi made it a point to bring in top-tier talent along the program’s defensive line.
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