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March 28, 2011

Washington hopes to keep moving forward

In just two years under coach Steve Sarkisian, Washington has improved from a winless disaster in 2008 to a Holiday Bowl winner over Nebraska.

But it's not a sure bet the Huskies will continue to make progress. Four of their seven wins last season were by seven or fewer points. They beat USC and Cal on the last plays of those games. They beat Oregon State in overtime. And that was with quarterback Jake Locker and linebackers Mason Foster leading the way.

Keith Price will have to hold off Nick Montana if he wants to be the man to replace Jake Locker at QB.
Coach: Steve Sarkisian
Last season: 7-6 overall, 5-4 in the Pac-10. Beat Nebraska 19-7 in the Holiday Bowl.
Spring dates: March 29-April 26
(minimum seven starts last season)
Offense (4): WR Jermaine Kearse, T Senio Kelemete, TB Chris Polk, G Drew Schaefer.
Defense (7): LB Cort Dennison, FS Nate Fellner, E Hau'oli Jamora, CB Quinton Richardson, T Alameda Ta'amu, E Everrette Thompson, CB Desmond Trufant.
Special teams (2): K Erik Folk, P Kiel Rasp.
This spring, the Huskies must start the process of replacing those stars as well as rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines.

On the positive side, Washington is proven at running back and receiver, the secondary is good and experienced and the special teams are solid.

Here's a look at the Huskies as they ready to open spring drills.

Positions of strength

The Huskies have no shortage of big-play threats. TB Chris Polk has two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and had touchdown runs of 72 and 52 yards last season. WR Jermaine Kearse is coming off his best season, one in which he averaged 16 yards on 63 receptions. He has 20 touchdown catches in the past two seasons. There are some other decent receivers on the roster and some good ones in the 2011 recruiting class. Last season, the Huskies ranked second in the Pac-10 and 27th in the nation in pass defense and three starters return in the secondary.

Help is needed

The loss of Jake Locker, who completed his eligibility, leaves a gaping hole at quarterback. Locker passed for more than 5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns over the past two seasons, and was a strong runner and a great leader. Sophomore Keith Price, Locker's backup last season, started one game and completed just half his passes for 127 yards, but it was against conference champion Oregon. Still, he has limited experience. The defensive line has to be more productive, too. The Huskies were vulnerable against the run, ranking 97th in the nation in rushing defense last season. No returning linemen managed more than three sacks in 2010. The situation at linebacker also is a cause for concern with Foster and Victor Aiyewa, who combined for 224 tackles and 11 sacks last season, both having completed their eligibility.

3 guys to watch

QB Nick Montana: Montana, a former three-star prospect, put up big passing yardage and touchdown numbers in high school, and he redshirted last season. Montana, the son of NFL Hall-of-Famer Joe Montana, will challenge Price in a competition for the starting job.

TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins: The tight end position basically has been non-existent in Seattle of late, but Seferian-Jenkins could change that in a hurry. Seferian-Jenkins, a 6-foot-7, 250-pound true freshman, was a four-star recruit and rated among the nation's premier tight end prospects. A native of nearby Fox Island, Wash., he enrolled early and could play a significant role in the offense immediately.

LB Thomas Tutogi: An all-conference selection at Southwestern Junior College (Calif.), Tutogi made 120 tackles last season, including 17.5 for loss. Hopes are high he can be similarly effective for the Huskies and ease the loss of Foster.

The pressure is on

WR Devin Aguilar: It's not that he hasn't been a productive receiver, but he's had injury issues and hasn't emerged as a big-time threat opposite Kearse. Last season, he was the third receiver, behind Kearse and departed D'Andre Goodwin. Aguilar had 28 catches for 352 yards and two touchdowns -- decent numbers, but nothing special. He needs to show he can take his play to another level this spring, especially with highly regarded freshman Kasen Williams coming in the summer, or he may remain the Huskies' third option at best.

The buzz

A year ago, Huskies fans were abuzz because Locker had decided to stay in school for his senior season. Now, the hot topic of discussion is his eventual successor. Price has some experience; Montana has nice potential and better genetics. The Huskies have other issues to address this spring, but as is typically the case, the quarterback competition will draw the majority of attention.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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