Confident Keith Price ready to bounce back at Washington

SEATTLE – It was an almost regular occurrence for Washington fans to wonder what, exactly, was going on between the ears of their starting quarterback last season.

There were the interceptions. The fumbles. Worst of all there were the losses.

After a record-setting year upon taking over for Jake Locker, Keith Price looked like he was going to be a threat to come out early and be one of the top quarterbacks in this year’s NFL Draft. There was fleeting Heisman Trophy talk coming from a few national columnists.

Then a solid but unspectacular 2012 season unfurled and caused many to wonder what was behind the decline in Price’s play.

“I really try to take a grand view of what happened for us offensively because we were so good two years ago. You look at losing two starting wide receivers to the NFL, your starting tailback to the NFL, your starting left tackle to the NFL and that’s not a good start,” Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian said. “Then injuries happened one after another after another. I think partially for Keith, he looked around for who can he count on and I think there was a little bit of trust lost in each other and the system.

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“He tried to put too much on himself and did too much. Then, things didn’t go great and I think there was a little bit of lost trust in himself.”

The expectations last season were the program would make the leap from good to great -- getting over the 7-6 hump the team had been stuck on -- thanks in large part to Price’s rise. He outperformed Heisman winner Robert Griffin III in the Alamo Bowl with seven total touchdowns while setting school records for touchdown passes (33) and completion percentage (66.9) in 2011.

Without that reliable cast of playmakers returning to Montlake however, Price’s completion percentage dipped by over five percent. His touchdown-to-interception ratio dropped precipitously. He still set records last year, such as most touchdown passes in a game, but there was ugly play during an early three-game losing streak and a disastrous final two games that saw him struggle running the offense.

“I watch the last two games I played in that didn’t end the way I wanted it to end,” Price said, referring to the film of the Apple Cup and bowl game losses. “I’ve had my bumps and bruises and I figured they’d come. After 2011, it just felt too easy. I knew the time would come and last year it did. I learned from it, dealt with criticism and it’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ll be back to myself (this year).”

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Price has looked better than ever this spring and those around the program are confident he can not only get back to where he was two years ago, but contend to be an All-Pac-12 signal-caller. To help play to his strengths, Sarkisian has implemented a more up-tempo version of the Huskies offense that has the quarterback getting into a rhythm and making quick decisions.

So far, so good after wrapping up 15 spring practices.

“We really haven’t changed our offense, we’re still running our same stuff. We’re just doing it faster,” Sarkisian said. “It’s helped our quarterback immensely, he’s playing at a really high level.

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“When we analyzed last season, some of the best football he played came when we were in our up-tempo stuff. We just didn’t have enough of it at our disposal to make it an all game, every game plan.”

Not only is the system setting Price up for success but his surrounding cast are all experienced and hungry. Junior running back Bishop Sankey burst onto the scene and exceeded expectations while taking over for Chris Polk. Receiver Kasen Williams has been a reliable playmaking presence. Tackle Ben Riva has solidified an offensive line that should be both healthy and deep when the fall rolls around. The status of Austin Seferian-Jenkins remains in the air, but he was the NCAA's leader in receptions among tight ends and one of three finalists for the John Mackey Award last year.

“He’s a business first guy,” Sankey said of the guy next to him in the backfield. “He comes out with the same attitude every day and works hard. This spring he’s really looked good. He’s looked crisp and like a quarterback should. He’s taken control of this offense and has nothing but great things ahead.”

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“I felt my swagger come back a little bit,” Price confirmed. “Any time you see guys running wide open and you’re hitting them, you gain confidence in the system and the people around me. It’s a lot easier to trust the guys around me and that’s why you see me performing at the level I did this spring.”

It’s a comforting thought for Washington as the opener against Boise State approaches. It’s probably a bit concerning for a few defensive coordinators however.

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