UW's Price happy at home in the pocket

Keith Price got hit, hammered, drilled, dumped and decked. And in the long run, it might have been the best thing to ever happen to the Washington quarterback.

With every sack Price took -- 26 of them for those keeping track at home -- a knee would strain a little more and an ankle would twist a little further. As those injuries compounded, he had to subdue his first instinct to run the football. In essence, those nagging injuries transformed him into a pure pocket quarterback.

"This year, I didn't have my legs underneath me and I had to make those throws while standing in the pocket and getting hit," Price said. "I had to stand in there and just take them. If I had my legs, I could have avoided them."

An athlete by nature who was more prone to the tuck-and-run, Price had to completely overhaul his style of play. And in the process he set the school's single-season passing touchdown record with 33 scores.

"This year was about learning a new style of play," he said. "I could never imagine playing without my legs. I depend on them so much. Now, it doesn't really matter."

Price was the Pac-12's nice little surprise. Expectations were cautiously tempered as he replaced top-10 draft pick Jake Locker. But the secret is out. This guy can play -- as evidenced by his 66.9 completion percentage. While the rest of the conference might have been in shock to see the sophomore carve up defenses with his arm -- not his legs -- it came as no surprise to him.

"I prepared for this, it's not like it just happened," Price said. "I put in the time and I sacrificed stuff I like for the game that I love. The coaches had faith in me and they helped shape who I am. It's been a blast."

And on Dec. 29, the rest of the country saw what the Pac-12 had learned as Price led the Huskies in a 56-point losing effort against Baylor in the Valero Alamo Bowl. Price accounted for seven touchdowns -- four in the air and three on the ground, his only rushing touchdowns of the year, mind you.

"I thought we had that one," Price said, leaving it at that.

Like its young quarterback, Washington is a team on the rise. The Huskies started the year by winning six of their first eight before hitting the meat-grinder portion of their schedule -- a four-game stretch that included Stanford, Oregon and USC. As the underdog, Washington dropped all three. Then it compounded when the Huskies lost at Oregon State. Injuries kept Price out of the game until he relieved Nick Montana in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough.

"I think it was an OK season," Price said. "We have a lot of things we have to improve on. But it was a decent season. Next year we need to have a great season."

Ah, next year. Price won't surprise anyone. And the centerpiece of the offense, running back Chris Polk, will be playing on Sundays. But Price doesn't seem concerned. He happily accepts the target on his back. But first things first, he wants to put some weight on his 6-foot-1, 195-pound frame.

"That's my biggest thing is staying healthy," he said. "Have a good offseason and a good spring ball and just go into camp feeling good about my body. I'm going to be taking a lot of hits and I don't need to be taking any unnecessary hits."

He even sounds like a pocket passer.