SEATTLE — The No. 10 that for so long was associated with Jake Locker at Washington now is in the hands of freshman linebacker John Timu.
For the first time in five years, Locker was no longer around the Huskies program as fall camp began on Monday and much of the focus during the weeks leading up to Washington’s opener on Sept. 3 against defending Football Championship Subdivision champ Eastern Washington will be on the guy replacing him, Keith Price.
“I love Jake to death, I hope he goes on and does great things in the NFL, but he doesn’t get to play for us anymore,” Washington coach Steve Sarkisian said. “This is about Keith Price. It’s not about Jake Locker anymore.”
Locker is now gone to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, but the Huskies started practice on a definite uptick following their late-season run a year ago, when Washington won its final three games to reach bowl eligibility then capped it with a 19-7 win over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl.
Price will get the first chance at replacing Locker, although redshirt freshman Nick Montana will get opportunities. Price earned the nod heading into fall camp because of his experience and a strong performance in spring practice.
Price got his first playing time last year for one play at USC and threw a touchdown. He got thrown into the most hostile environment in the Pac-12 at top-ranked Oregon last November and, while the Huskies were routed 53-16, Price played well.
Spring camp was the first time since 2006 that Locker wasn’t around taking snaps and Price walked away in April as the clear leader for the starting job. And while Price struggled with a few throws during Monday’s first practice, Sarkisian noted the way Price carried himself was with the confidence of a starter.
“I’m just trying to better myself,” Price said. “I’m not worried about the competition or the quarterback situation. I’m just trying to better myself so I can better the team.”
Sarkisian didn’t rule out the chance that Montana could win the job during fall camp.
Sarkisian said Price would get about two-thirds of the reps with the starters, with Montana getting the rest. The Huskies also want to look at freshman QB Derrick Brown out of Southern California.
“I don’t want people to think and Nick to think he’s going out to practice for the sake of practicing. He’s competing,” Sarkisian said. “If Keith doesn’t perform well and Nick does and it shows itself and lends itself that way that could easily happen.”
While many fans want to focus on who takes over for Locker, Sarkisian said his bigger concerns lie on defense, where the Huskies need to replace both starting outside linebackers and their starting strong safety.
Linebacker Mason Foster led Washington in tackles with 161 last season, while safety Nate Williams was second and Victor Aiyewa was fourth.
All three are gone now, and while the Huskies have the most depth of Sarkisian’s three seasons, they also know that Cort Dennison is their only returning starting linebacker.
Monday also was the debut of heralded freshman wide receiver Kasen Williams, who was chosen the Parade Magazine national high school player of the year last season. Wearing the same No. 2 that his father, Aaron, wore during his career with the Huskies, Williams and freshman tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins are likely to be working with the starting offense for most of the fall.
“With Kasen we have to identify the things he does well and continually get him in position to do those things that he does well so that his confidence can build and grow, and then identify the things he maybe really needs to work on if he’s going to be successful at this level playing that position,” Sarkisian said.
“We’ve got to hammer those things home and really teach and coach to those things so that his level of play can find itself, so that he can be a consistent college football player as a true freshman. It’s not an easy thing to do.”