Spring primer: Five things to watch

SEATTLE -- When Steve Sarkisian met with the media Monday, Washington’s coach talked about a team that is “poised for a great run” in 2013.

That journey begins Tuesday when the Huskies take the field for their first spring practice.

“We’re champing at the bit to get on the field and get going,” Sarkisian said.

Sarkisian believes the pieces are in place for the program to compete for a Pac-12 title. To do that, Washington needs to find success and build confidence this spring.

Here are five storylines to follow as the Huskies set out to reach the lofty expectations that have been set in front of the program:

1: Can Keith Price regain the form he showed as a sophomore?

Heading into the spring, Price is Washington’s quarterback. Sarkisian made that clear when asked about the senior quarterback.

However, Sarkisian also made it clear that the Huskies’ passing attack needs to take a step forward, and Price needs to regain the confidence he had as a sophomore.

“The goal is to get Keith Price back to playing the way he was two years ago,” Sarkisian said.

With the way Price, and the team, struggled at times last season, both the quarterback and coaching staff tried to manufacture the energy Price produced so naturally as a sophomore.

It didn’t work.

“It’s developed through confidence, through belief to where it exudes out of him and it’s not trying to be created superficially,” Sarkisian said.

Through Price’s offseason training, Sarkisian believes the quarterback will regain his swagger in time for theseason. But the other quarterbacks in the program -- Cyler Miles, Jeff Lindquist, Troy Williams and Derrick Brown -- will get their opportunities.

“We’re not going to be stubborn enough to think, if another guy is playing better that guy won’t get that opportunity to beat him out,” Sarkisian said. “[Price] understands the focus of this spring and what he needs to do for himself so that he can perform to the highest level of his capabilities.”

2. Experience pays off for offensive line

Plagued by injuries in 2012, Washington’s offensive line was a work in progress.

However, with young players pressed into service earlier than planned, they picked up experience, which should produce more continuity this spring and into the fall.

“It’s taken us some time at that position group,” Sarkisian said. “They still have hurdles ahead they need to continue to work on and challenges they need to continue to work on, but I just like the fact that we’ve got an experienced group of offensive linemen coming back that have played in big-time games against big-time opponents.”

Sarkisian pointed to Ben Riva, Micah Hatchie and Shane Brostek -- he has added more than 20 pounds -- as three players who should be poised to take a strong step forward this year.

The Huskies will have to find a new center with the graduation of Drew Schaefer. Sarkisian said Mike Criste, Erik Kohler and Colin Tanigawa are all capable of playing the position.

“Hopefully we can get Kohler back,” Sarkisian said. “If he’s a natural fit there, we can really take that thing and run with it.”

3. Experience creates confidence for linebackers

Washington has molded linebackers out of players who grew up playing other positions.

Coming out of high school, John Timu was a quarterback and safety. Travis Feeney and Shaq Thompson played safety.

However, all three have proven to be playmakers at linebacker. There have been growing pains for this group as they acclimated to the position, but experience is creating confidence.

“We’ve seen some of the top-end things, the turnovers they’ve created for us on the defensive side of the ball,” Sarkisian said. “I’d like to think the consistency at that position is only going to get better to go along with the high-flying plays they create for us.”

Sarkisian listed Feeney as out for the spring, but Thompson and Timu will continue to get valuable reps for the Huskies. After spending his freshman year playing almost a hybrid safety-linebacker, Thompson will now make the transition to linebacker on a full-time basis.

“He looks great,” Sarkisian said. “He’s had a tremendous offseason. He works at it. For as talented as he is physically, his work ethic is one that is in the top five percent on our roster, just a guy who prepares himself mentally and physically and then can produce at those times in the competitive moments.”

4. How will the coaching staff adjust to changes?

Washington was forced to make several changes to its coaching staff over the offseason, but the changes should help the Huskies on the offensive side of the ball.

With former Washington quarterback Marques Tuiasosopo coming back to coach the position he played, offensive coordinator Erick Kiesau moves over to coach receivers.

“Tui knows our system very well,” Sarkisian said. “He’s a tremendous competitor. He bleeds purple and gold. He knows what we are asking out of our quarterback, inside and out.”

The changes allow Sarkisian to focus on the offense as a whole, specifically allowing him to get the Huskies into a more up-tempo, no-huddle attack this spring.

5. Finding comfort in uncomfortable situations

During his time as Washington’s coach, Sarkisian has tried to build a program that lives within its “routines and regiments.”

Living within those details has produced a very good home record for the Huskies, but the program hasn’t always “performed great when we’ve gotten out of our own comfort zone,” Sarkisian said.

To combat that, he's putting players and staff in new and, at times, uncomfortable positions.

“We’re going to try to expand that comfort zone this spring,” Sarkisian said.

The Huskies are starting spring practice earlier than they have in the past. They are holding their first practice of the spring at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. They are disrupting their routine just enough to try and make uncomfortable comfortable.

“It’s not about where we play or what time we play, or who we’re playing, or what uniforms we’re wearing, or what uniforms they’re wearing, or what condition the field is in, any of that,” Sarkisian said. “It’s about controlling what we can control, controlling our own performance and our preparation for that performance.”