The least you should know about the 2011 Huskies. Part of Pac-12 Week.
• We are strong, independent Huskies. Lost in the hand-wringing over the departure of senior star Jake Locker — a celebrated four-year starter who served as the unquestioned face of the Huskies' turnaround over the last two years before moving on in the first round of the NFL Draft — is the fact that, frankly, Locker was never that great of a college quarterback. At least, Washington's offense was never that great with him at the controls: The Huskies were eighth in the Pac-10 and 96th nationally last year in scoring, failing to reach 20 points in seven different games. In Locker's two biggest wins as a starter, over third-ranked USC in 2009 and over Nebraska in last year's Holiday Bowl, Washington scored 16 and 19 points, respectively.
Locker certainly suffered at times from the relative lack of talent around him, and occasionally transcended it. But despite flashes of the skills that made him such a scout favorite, his overall numbers were consistently below par by Pac-10 standards — on paper, his lackluster completion percentage (55.4) and pass efficiency rating (124.2) as a fifth-year senior are the kind of numbers you'd typically expect from a moderately hyped sophomore taking the reins for the first time. Which happens to be exactly what the Huskies will have in Locker's successor, Keith Price.
• We can give you what you need. That's not necessarily a vote of confidence in Price, who was hardly a celebrated recruit and predictably struggled in his only extended action as a redshirt freshman, a 53-16 loss at Oregon. But he can't complain about his surrounding cast: Tailback Chris Polk is well on his way to breaking the school's career rushing record after back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons, and proven receivers Jermaine Kearse and Devin Aguilar will be joined by two of the most hyped incoming targets in the country, local products Kasen Williams and Austin Seferian-Jenkins. If all eyes were on the quarterback duel this spring, it was only because the other priorities were already more or less settled.
In fact, for all the attention on Locker, Polk was at least as instrumental last year in ending the eight-year bowl drought: He went over 100 total yards in six of Washington's seven wins, and personally accounted for almost 47 percent of the team's total offense in the four-game winning streak to close the season.
• Signs, signs, everywhere a sign. The really worrisome attrition is on defense, where neon vacancy signs now point to the positions occupied by the top two tacklers, All-American linebacker Mason Foster and All-Pac-10 safety Nate Williams, and the most persistent presence in opposing backfields, Victor Aiyewa, who led the conference in tackles for loss. Even with that trio in the fold, the Huskies were not good against he run, yielding well over 200 yards on the ground in six different games. And even with wide load Alameda Ta'amu back in the middle in the defensive line, the new personnel inspires a lot less confidence than the departures until they prove otherwise.
• Not-so-happy returns. Another symptom of the persistent lack of firepower: The return game. Washington hasn't returned a kickoff for a touchdown since 2007, or a punt for a score since 2006 — and even that was on a blocked punt recovered by a linebacker. Last year, it ranked dead last in the Pac-10 on kickoff and punt returns.
Everyone who gave either role a shot in 2010 is back, along with quite a few who took a crack at it in 2009. Unless they're willing to risk Polk or soon-to-be NFL-bound cornerback Desmond Trufant back there, though, the best bet for a spark probably comes from the incoming recruiting class — specifically, from juco transfer Antavius Sims, who spent the last two years making defenses look silly as a spread quarterback in California.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.