The journey to claim the 2012 national title begins in February, March and April, as 124 college football teams open up spring practice over the next three months. Athlon will preview some of the top teams and storylines across the nation, as the countdown to 2012 inches closer.
2012 Washington Huskies Spring Preview
2011 Record: 7-6, 5-4 Pac-12
Spring practice: April 2-April 28
Returning Starters: Offense – 6, Defense – 6
Passing: Keith Price, 242 of 362, 3,063 yds., 33 TD, 11 INTs
Rushing: Jesse Callier, 47 car., 260 yds., 1 TD
Receiving: Austin Seferian-Jenkins, 41 rec., 538 yds., 6 TDs
Tackles: Sean Parker, 91
Sacks: Josh Shirley, 8.5
Interceptions: Sean Parker, 4
Redshirts to watch: WR Marvin Hall, DE Jarett Finau, WR Josh Perkins, S James Sample, OL Dexter Charles, DE Corey Waller
JUCO Transfers to Watch: K Travis Coons, DT Josh Banks
Sept. 1 San Diego State
Sept. 8 at LSU
Sept. 15 Portland State
Sept. 27 Stanford
Oct. 6 at Oregon
Oct. 13 USC
Oct. 20 at Arizona
Oct. 27 Oregon State
Nov. 2 at California
Nov. 10 Utah
Nov. 17 at Colorado
Nov. 23 at Washington State
Offensive Strength: Quarterback Keith Price had a standout season in his first year as the starter and he should build upon that success in 2012. Price finished with 3,063 yards and 33 scores last season, while completing 66.9 percent of his throws. USC’s Matt Barkley is locked into preseason first-team All-Pac-12 honors, but Price should be the conference’s No. 2 quarterback in 2012. Even with the departure of Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar, the Huskies have plenty of options at receiver and tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be an All-American at the end of the year.
Offensive Weakness: There’s no doubt running back Chris Polk will be missed, and making matters worse is the fact the Huskies have no clear replacement on the roster. Polk rushed for at least 1,113 yards in each of his three seasons in Seattle and finished with 79 receptions and 30 overall scores. Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey will compete for the No. 1 position this spring.
Defensive Strength: After finishing 106th in total defense last season, the Huskies certainly have some work to do on this side of the ball. However, there are some bright spots, including the secondary and linebacking corps. Although the secondary gave up a lot of big plays, cornerback Desmond Trufant and safety Sean Parker are two solid building blocks. A handful of key contributors are back at linebacker, including John Timu and Josh Shirley.
Defensive Weakness: There’s certainly talent for defensive coordinator Justin Wilcox to work with in 2012. However, each level of the defense has concerns. The line must replace two key contributors, including tackle and run stuffer Alameda Ta’amu. The linebacking corps loses second-team All-Pac-12 selection Cort Dennison, while the secondary must replace Quinton Richardson. No loss will be overwhelming, but for a defense that is struggling to find its footing, the Huskies need all of the help they can get.
Spring Storylines Facing the Huskies
1. Coach Steve Sarkisian has Washington on the right track, but after three seasons in Seattle, his record is just 19-19. Progress has been steady under Sarkisian and he took an important step in the offseason by firing defensive coordinator Nick Holt. The Huskies never showed much defensive progress under Holt and turned in an embarrassing performance in the bowl loss to Baylor. New coordinator Justin Wilcox should be an immediate improvement over Holt, while linebacker coach Peter Sirmon and defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi were two of the top assistant coach hires this offseason. The Huskies aren’t ready to challenge Oregon as the Pac-12 North champion, but with Stanford replacing Andrew Luck, the door is open for Washington to finish second in the division this year.
2. With Chris Polk’s decision to enter the NFL Draft, the biggest offensive spring battle will focus on the running backs. Jesse Callier rushed for 260 yards and one touchdown last season, but has never recorded more than 10 carries in a game. Bishop Sankey posted 187 yards and a touchdown as a true freshman last year and trails Callier on the depth chart entering spring practice. Sophomore Deontae Cooper has missed the last two years with a knee injury, but if healthy, will compete with Sankey and Callier for snaps. The wildcard to watch in the backfield will be Antavius Sims. The coaching staff is intrigued by the junior college transfer and he will get an extended look in the backfield this spring. With the uncertainty facing the backfield, true freshman Erich Wilson II could get a look for carries this fall. Washington may not replace Polk’s yardage by one player, but overall, this shouldn’t be a huge concern for this team in 2012.
3. Outside of finding a replacement for Polk, the biggest question for the Huskies’ offense will be the line. Left tackle Senio Kelemete earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors last season, but has finished his eligibility in a Washington uniform. Four starters are back, but guard Colin Porter is coming off shoulder surgery and will sit out spring practice. Fellow guard Colin Tanigawa is recovering from ACL surgery and won’t return until the fall. Right tackle Erik Kohler may also miss time this spring, which means the Huskies will be short-handed up front. If all three players return 100 percent and in time for fall practice, Washington’s offensive line should be fine. However, this group needs time to jell and asking all five players to come together with no practice time before the season opener is a tall task and a concern for Sarkisian and the offensive staff.
4. With Wilcox taking over as the defensive coordinator, Washington is expected to use more 3-4 looks in 2012, which will require a little adjustment in personnel. The line will miss tackle Alameda Ta’amu, who was a key presence in the Huskies’ rush defense. However, Hau’oli Jamora returns after playing in only four games due to an injury and the coaching staff expects big things from sophomore Danny Shelton in the middle. Josh Shirley recorded 8.5 sacks last season and should be a perfect fit as the linebacker/rush end in the Huskies’ 3-4 scheme. With some players moving around and a new scheme, don’t be surprised if there are a few growing pains early in the season. However, the key to the rush defense will be the play of Shelton and if Jamora returns at 100 percent early in the season.
5. While showing improvement on defense is crucial to pushing Oregon in the Pac-12 North, the special teams suffered some key losses with kicker Erik Folk and punter Kiel Rasp finishing their eligibility. The Huskies have three kickers competing for time – Mihai Ion, Jacob Dunn and Travis Coons – but none have attempted a kick on the FBS level. Freshman Korey Durkee seems to have the inside track at punter after averaging 45.9 yards per kick as a high school senior.
By Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven on Twitter)
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