Entering the second spring of the Steve Sarkisian era, the Washington Huskies have little doubt about what are their strengths and weaknesses.
Jake Locker, a quarterback who would have been among the top picks in the 2010 NFL Draft had he decided to come out early, and a set of offensive skill position players that could be among the best in the Pac-10, if not the country.
Just about everything else.
The Huskies return four starting offensive linemen and could be good up front if everyone stays healthy. But there is little known depth.
And the front seven on defense is shy of both experience and numbers, though the secondary, while young, could be a plus if everything works out okay.
A few recent offseason issues -- the suspension of defensive Andru Pulu after an assault charge and injuries to defensive ends Everrette Thompson and Kalani Aldrich -- are especially troublesome.
"We were thin (up front) to begin with and now we are even thinner," said defensive coordinator Nick Holt.
Locker, though, provides a certain level of comfort for the Huskies, now likely to be regarded as the top passer in the Pac-10 heading into the season with the recent suspension of Oregon's Jeremiah Masoli.
Locker threw for 2,800 yards last season, second in the Pac-10 and third in school history, while also rushing for 388 to lead the conference in total offense.
UW loses only two significant players on offense -- fullback Paul Homer and guard-tackle Ben Ossai.
The defense, however, could return just four full-time starters at the position they played a year ago as the Huskies will shuffle things a bit to try to field the best defense possible.NOTES, QUOTES
SPRING OBJECTIVES: Number one for the Huskies is to try to find some answers on the front seven on defense, the most obvious question mark about this team.
UW's two biggest losses to graduation each came in this area -- defensive end Daniel Te'o-Neshiem and MLB Donald Butler -- each a likely draft pick.
The Huskies also lost starting DE Darrion Jones and OLB E.J. Savannah, whose bid for a sixth year was denied.
Offseason issues have left the Huskies especially thin at DE, where the starters heading into the spring are likely sophomore Talia Crichton and senior De'Shon Matthews, neither of whom has much experience. UW will hope Everrette Thompson, who spent most of last year at DT but recently suffered an Achilles injury, will return in the fall. Reinforcements are also coming in the fall in terms of a few highly-touted recruits, so this will be an area of uncertainty until deep into August.
UW will also try to solidify its LB corps. Starters Mason Foster (WLB) and Cort Dennison (moving from WLB to MLB) return, but the strong-side spot is wide open.
UW will also have open competition for a backup QB behind Jake Locker with Ronnie Fouch transferring -- Nick Montana, son of Joe, will enroll in time to compete with redshirt frosh Keith Price.
BUILDING BLOCKS: The Huskies have all the makings of a team that will need to outscore foes to win in 2010. Luckily, the Huskies also have all the makings of a team that may have the ability to do just that.
UW's strength rests in its skill position players, led by senior QB Jake Locker and including sophomore TB Chris Polk, WRs Jermaine Kearse, Devin Aguilar and James Johnson, and TE Kavario Middleton. If the Huskies can get a serviceable performance from an offensive line that returns four starters -- and five that have at least started a game -- UW could have one of the better offenses in the conference, if not the country.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we got better as a football program. I think we play with a passion and an energy that people that watched us play, or played against us, could feel. And I think it sets a tone where we're headed as a program. I'm excited about that." -- UW coach Steve Sarkisian, looking at last year and ahead to 2010.STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
2010 OUTLOOK: With the potential of 16 returning starters in 2010, the Huskies could be on the verge of their first winning season since 2002. The key to it all is senior QB Jake Locker, who spurned possibly being the first pick in the draft to return for one more season.
The return of Locker should give the Huskies one of the better offenses in the Pac-10 with 1,000-yard rusher Chris Polk and a solid group of WRs led by Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar also back.
UW has some significant issues on its defensive front seven, but the secondary could be much improved, and coaches think the entire defense will be faster than it was a year ago, if less experienced in some key spots.
The schedule remains tough, but the Huskies have some winnable home games, and coach Steve Sarkisian has said a breakthrough to a bowl game is the goal.
S Sean Parker -- The native of Los Angeles memorably chose UW on national TV on signing day over offers from USC and Michigan and is likely to be in the two-deep immediately at either free or strong safety. Senior Nate Williams seems entrenched at strong safety meaning Parker's most realistic route to immediate playing time is at free safety.
RB Deontae Cooper -- The second-leading rusher in the state of California last year with just over 2,800 yards, Cooper enrolled in January so he can take part in spring practice and figures to compete for the backup TB spot behind Chris Polk and as a returner.
OT Erik Kohler -- One of the most heralded linemen to sign with UW in years, Kohler -- a high school teammate of Nick Montana's -- should compete for at least a backup spot at tackle, a position where UW has no proven depth
--Sophomore defensive end Andru Pulu, a potential starter with UW losing both starters from 2009 to graduation, was suspended indefinitely after being investigated and later charged with assault. His status for the 2010 season remains uncertain.
--Another potential starting DE, Everrette Thompson, will be out 4-6 months after suffering an Achilles tendon injury. And another DE, Kalani Aldrich, will miss the spring to rehab a chronic knee injury. That means UW will be without three of its top four defensive ends in the spring with only Talia Crichton available.
--Backup running backs Curtis Shaw and Willie Griffin each transferred during the off-season searching for more playing time elsewhere.
--Starting right tackle Cody Habben will miss the spring after having off-season shoulder surgery but should be fine for the season.
--Starting TB Chris Polk will miss the spring after having off-season shoulder surgery but should be fine for the season.
Previous Report: 04/28/2010