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Originally published August 25, 2010 at 8:21 PM | Page modified August 26, 2010 at 6:13 PM

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Keith Price makes run at backing up UW quarterback Jake Locker

UW's Keith Price, a redshirt freshman, says he doesn't worry about any perception that it's just a matter of time until true freshman Nick Montana — son of Hall of Famer Joe — becomes the heir apparent to senior Jake Locker.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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With quarterbacks named Locker and Montana surrounding him on the roster, Keith Price is kind of the "who's he?" on Washington's quarterback depth chart.

Not that he minds.

Price, a redshirt freshman, says he doesn't worry about any perception that it's just a matter of time until true freshman Nick Montana — son of Hall of Famer Joe — becomes the heir apparent to senior Jake Locker.

"I kind of like it that way," he said. "That way, I don't have to worry about anything. I can just play. I don't have anything to live up to. I can just play and be myself."

And by just playing, Price is making a serious run at emerging as the backup to Locker this season. The native of Compton, Calif., took all the snaps with the No. 1 offense on Tuesday night when Locker was given a previously scheduled day off. And he alternated with Locker in taking snaps with the regular offense while Montana ran the scout team during the early portion of Wednesday's practice.

UW coach Steve Sarkisian, however, cautioned not to read much into those events. He said the plan all along had been to let Price run the ones for a practice to see how he would react. And he said the tradition is that all of the incoming freshmen have to work with the scout team (or what UW calls the service team) on the first day of scout team work.

When asked if any of that meant he'd decided on a backup, Sarkisian said "I don't know that." However, he said the day of reckoning is soon.

"We'll make a decision for sure internally here by Saturday," he said. However, he said again he may not announce it publicly, preferring to leave it a secret to opponents (as the only other two scholarship QBs on the roster behind Locker, Price and Montana will travel to all away games, anyway).

The way Price has played lately, however, it will be little surprise if he gets the call, putting him the proverbial one play away from action should something happen to Locker. He impressed coaches by leading the offense on a TD drive to end Tuesday's practice, and has shown improved passing accuracy and mastery of the offense throughout.

"I think he's had a really good camp," said quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier. "He has continued to improve and done a nice job. He's really progressed a long way."

The 6-1, 192 pound Price is more of a runner-passer type than Montana, who more fits the traditional dropback mold (though Montana has surprised some with his mobility). He was originally recruited to UW by the staff of Tyrone Willingham, who viewed him as a natural successor to Locker, able to operate the spread option aspects of the offense. When Sarkisian took over, Price briefly reconsidered his options and said Arizona State proved a heavy lure. But he ultimately was won over again by Sarkisian.

"It was just his rep and how many quarterbacks he has developed and put in the league," Price said. "That's my main goal right now, just to develop into a good quarterback and hopefully play at the next level."

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That sort of future looked far away a year ago, when Price admittedly struggled with the transition to Pac-10-level football.

"Oh man I was stressed," he said. "Calling my mother every night. I was far away from home, didn't have anybody out here."

But now, he says, he feels more comfortable in the system and in his surroundings. "It's great now," he said. "I'm having fun."

Sarkisian has said Price has seemed more relaxed this fall, citing that as a key reason for his improved play.

What's also helped are some changes to Price's throwing motion, specifically moving his arm down a bit so he didn't come from over the top as much.

"I started throwing a tighter spiral and started being more accurate," Price said.

Or as Nussmeier said: "He's got a zip. He's what you call 'a spinner.' He spins it good."

Good enough, maybe, to have won the backup job.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com.

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