New Washington State coach Mike Leach, left, created quite a buzz even before the team began its summer workouts. Steve Sarkisian, right, says he was "a bit brash" when he was hired by the Huskies. He says he's more relaxed now, entering his fourth season.
By Steve Kelley Seattle Times staff columnist
Everything about Steve Sarkisian’s early days at Washington was loud and designed to attract attention to a program that had lost its way. Everything he did was made to feel bigger than it actually was.
His introductory news conference in the Don James Center had the feel of an inauguration speech. The only thing that was missing was a Bible and a solemn oath to uphold the values of Enoch Bagshaw, Jim Owens and Don James.
The arrival of Sarkisian’s first defensive coordinator Nick Holt called for another full-house news conference. You would have thought Pete Carroll, not Holt, was leaving USC for Washington.
No player is more valuable to Washington than junior quarterback Keith Price, who threw for a school-record 33 touchdowns last season. He did that despite nagging knee and ankle injuries, though he started all but one game. The Huskies need to keep him healthier this season if they want to take the next step.
Washington allowed a school-record 467 points last season, leading to the firing of defensive coordinator Nick Holt and two other assistants. A remade defensive staff, and new schemes, have been well-received by players. Now comes the test of translating that into improvement on the field.
Hold the line
The Huskies' offensive line has suffered a succession of injuries since last season that could force untested players onto the field earlier than hoped. In particular, UW could have two new tackles, redshirt sophomores Ben Riva and Micah Hatchie, neither of whom has started. Each will need to mature quickly.
Kick it in gear
An easy-to-overlook factor in UW's success the past few years was its steady kicking games, led by strong-legged punter Kiel Rasp and kicker Erik Folk, each of whom has graduated. JC transfer Travis Coons is expected to take over as kicker and true frosh Korey Durkee as punter and UW is hoping for a seamless transition.
Find a running game
The biggest personnel loss from the 2011 season might have been tailback Chris Polk, who left a year early for the NFL. Junior Jesse Callier and sophomore Bishop Sankey will likely share the carries in his absence as the Huskies will go with more of a committee approach.
In the four-year Paul Wulff regime, Cougars surrendered 186 sacks. That puts not only down-and-distance, but your quarterbacks, in peril.
Be stout up front
The dismissal of Anthony Laurenzi thins a defensive line that was already a question mark. Cougars need some breakthrough performances here.
Kick it deep
The defense was continually put in bad positions in 2011 by short kickoffs. Transfer kicker Michael Bowlin should help improve that deficiency.
Minimize mistakes at linebacker
Travis Long moves from end to "Buck" linebacker spot in the new 3-4. He joins three who don't have a start yet at WSU, so the youngsters will need to grow up quickly.
Easier said than done, but as coach Mike Leach has noted, depth is generally lacking on this roster. Either the front-line guys have to stay on the field, or WSU has to get quick help from incoming players.
— Bud Withers
Dean Rutz / The Seattle Times
Chip Lydum, UW's associate athletic director for operations and capital projects, takes reporters on a tour of Husky Stadium, which is nearing the halfway point in its construction.