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March 31, 2009

For starters, Huskies need a healthy Locker

Steve Sarkisian faces a big job. In leaving the security that was offensive coordinator at USC, he's taken on a task of rebuilding a once-proud Washington program.

The Huskies haven't managed a winning record in six years, are coming off their worst season in school history and have an injury-prone star quarterback.

In his first spring with the Huskies, Sarkisian must implement a new offensive system, bolster the offensive and defensive lines and patch an inept secondary. His greatest challenge might be rebuilding confidence in a young team coming off a winless season.

Here's a look at the Huskies as they begin spring practice.

WASHINGTON AT-A-GLANCE
Keeping Jake Locker healthy is the Huskies' top priority.
THE BASICS
Coach: Steve Sarkisian
Last season: 0-12, 0-9 Pac-10
Spring dates: March 31-April 25
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (6): QB Ronnie Fouch, WR D'Andre Goodwin, T Cody Habben, WR Alvin Logan (has moved to safety), T Ben Ossai, G Ryan Tolar.
Defense (8): LB Donald Butler, T Cameron Elisara, LB Mason Foster, S Tripper Johnson, E Darrion Jones, CB Quinton Richardson, E Daniel Te'o-Nesheim, S Nate Williams.
Special teams (1): K Ryan Perkins.
Positions of strength

One of the few perhaps the only bright spots during last season's debacle was the play at linebacker. Donald Butler and Mason Foster played well, and former starter E.J. Savannah, who did not play last season, is returning to the team. If Savannah demonstrates he can play as well as he did in '07, he could be the best player on the defense. Quarterback also could be a position of strength, but it could just as easily be listed under the next category.

Help is needed

Keeping quarterback Jake Locker healthy has to be the top priority. It hasn't been easy. Locker missed eight games with an injury last season. The Huskies have several areas of concern, including bolstering a leaky secondary, upgrading a disappointing offensive line and improving the defensive front four. But better play at quarterback is the utmost need. That translates to keeping Locker on the field.

Keep an eye on

TE Kavario Middleton: Middleton, a sophomore, caught four passes in each of the first two games of last season. Unfortunately, he only caught four more the rest of the season. He has excellent size and ability. He also has a new coach who likes to use the tight end.

TB Chris Polk: A former four-star prospect, Polk started as a true freshman last season but made it only two games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. With a good spring, he can re-establish his role as the starting tailback.

DE Everrette Thompson: Thompson, another sophomore, was a four-star prospect who improved as the season progressed in 2008 and even started the final three games. He could emerge as a starter on a young line.

His time is now

Locker is a great athletic and tremendous running threat. He's also an erratic passer. The Huskies are hoping he can become a more polished passer this spring. That's vital in Sarkisian's pro-style offense. And did we mention the importance of Locker staying healthy?

The buzz

The USC connection of Sarkisian and new defensive coordinator Nick Holt has gotten the attention of fans in Seattle. They've done and said the right things so far and provide energy. Now, the talk centers on how quickly he can build a team. There is talent on the roster, though much of it is young.

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



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