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Originally published Saturday, April 14, 2012 at 8:08 PM

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Husky defense seems improved at spring practices

The offense is held without a touchdown during scrimmaging

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Seven spring practices is by any definition a small sample size.

But after a Saturday workout that included the most extensive scrimmaging yet for the Washington Huskies, UW quarterback Keith Price said he's seen enough to make an assessment of his team's defense.

"They are definitely getting better," he said. "It's tough because they are throwing different kinds of looks at me that I haven't seen before and it's a matter of me adjusting. So next week, the offense should be ripping."

Saturday, though, a defense last seen allowing 67 points to Baylor in the Alamo Bowl got the better of the offense.

During a roughly 30-play live tackling session featuring five series of the No. 1 and 2 offense going against the No. 1 and No. 2 defense, the offense didn't score a point.

The best chance for the offense was thwarted when junior safety Sean Parker picked off one of Price's throws near the goal line to end one drive.

On another possession led by Price, linebacker John Timu broke through to stop Bishop Sankey short on a fourth-and-one from the 26. And during a live contact goal-line session, the defense won, stopping the offense on six of 11 tries.

Such performances haven't been uncommon this spring as the defense — featuring four new coaches, including coordinator Justin Wilcox — has more than held its own. The offensive line issues no doubt contribute.

But UW coach Steve Sarkisian said he thinks some of what is being seen is real defensive improvement.

"It's been pretty cool (to watch)," he said. "And by no means do I think it was manufactured. The defense is winning these plays. I think it's exciting for our defensive players that they are winning some of those head-to-head competitions with the offense. I think that builds spirit and builds morale and builds want-to."

Because it's just seven practices into spring, Sarkisian said he didn't want to make too many big assessments yet. But he said one noticeable change is the ability of the defensive backs to play tighter coverage.

"I am really excited about our ability to ... we're much more sticky in coverage, I can say that," he said. "That's definitely very evident to me in the back end. We're on guys. We're covering guys. We're matching routes really well against good receivers. They are contesting balls, which is making it tough on our guys."

Wilcox has said as a general principle he would like to play tighter coverage.

"I think it's a coaching style and brand," Sarkisian said. "That's Justin's specialty is the back end and really understanding that, and he does a great job of coaching it and teaching it.'

It also helps that the secondary is one of UW's most experienced position groups with all but one significant player from last year returning.

Wilcox is also installing more 3-4 looks and has shuffled a few players in the front seven, such as lineman Andrew Hudson, listed as an end but often playing essentially a tackle spot.

"I feel as a defense we are all becoming smarter and better players," Hudson said. "I feel good about the defense — I really do."

Price threw a touchdown to Austin Seferian-Jenkins in the goal-line session, and backup QB Derrick Brown threw one to Michael Hartvigson.

Including those sessions, Price was 7 for 11 for 69 yards and Brown 5 for 9 for 80.

Brown, a redshirt freshman from Winchester, Calif., is the only other scholarship quarterback on the roster this spring following the decision in January of Nick Montana to transfer. Two signees from the Class of 2012, Jeff Lindquist and Cyler Miles, will arrive in the fall.

Sankey, competing with Jesse Callier to take over for Chris Polk at tailback, continued a nice spring with 21 yards on three carries during the live scrimmage and two receptions for 12 yards. He had a 3-yard touchdown run during the goal-line session.

NOTES

• Sarkisian also praised the defense for its tackling and said he was pleased with the overall team in that there weren't a lot of penalties or other mistakes.

• Sarkisian said the knee injury of center Drew Schaefer is not serious and that he could be back in a week or two. He called it a sprain and said "it's not season-threatening, by any means." With Schaefer out, sophomore Mike Criste worked as the first-team center.

• The Huskies have eight more practices this spring, going Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Saturday the next two weeks. A practice next Saturday at 11 a.m. at Memorial Stadium is open to the public as is the Spring Game April 28 at 1 p.m. at CenturyLink Field.

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