Who is ready to step in for Locker at Washington?

Next week, Jake Locker’s departure from Washington will become official when the quarterback is selected by one of 32 pro franchises in the NFL Draft.

And if there happens to be a prolonged NFL lockout? Well, the former Huskies dual-threat signal caller can always play baseball down on the farm for the Los Angeles Angels. Either way, Locker’s time is done in Seattle.

So who will step in under center for Steve Sarkisian’s squad when the 2011 season kicks off?

Will it be the son of an NFL Hall of Famer or the guy who has spent more time in the Huskies’ system?

As of now, it’s neither — because the competition for the starting gig will likely last into the middle of fall camp.

Redshirt freshman Nick Montana, the son of former Notre Dame and San Francisco 49ers great Joe Montana, enrolled early at Washington last spring in order to gain extra time on the practice field with the intention of getting acclimated to the Huskies system faster, thus have a better chance of winning the starting job this fall.

Keith PriceICONKeith Price may not have the famous last name, but he has the edge in experience over Nick Montana.

But it was redshirt sophomore Keith Price who received the start — the first of his career — last November when the Huskies visited top-ranked Oregon. And he held his own against the Ducks. So it came as no surprise that Price, who was recruited to Seattle by former coach Tyrone Willingham, began the spring season with an edge over Montana.

But because he arrived on campus under a different regime and a different offense in place, it seems to be only a matter of time before the Montana era begins.

Price fit the spread-option attack that Willingham employed a little bit better than Sarkisian’s scheme, which is more of a pro-style offense. And that’s where Montana comes in.

Not only does he have the famous last name, but Montana played at powerhouse Oaks Christian in Southern California, where he was a prolific drop-back passer in a pro-style offense.

Still, Price performed well against the national runner-up Ducks, where he was able to step in while Locker dealt with injured ribs. While his 14 of 28 passing day didn’t look fantastic on the stat sheet, he did toss a touchdown with no interceptions in a hostile environment against a defense that went underrated all year. Even more, he threw a touchdown early in the year in his only snap — in a goal-line situation — at USC.

That experience, albeit limited, could ultimately be the deciding factor.

Sarkisian will use the rest of spring drills to continue to test his young signal callers. The Huskies will hold a scrimmage on Saturday before concluding the spring season with the annual spring game at Husky Stadium on Saturday, April 30.

And whoever lines up under center when the Huskies host Eastern Washington on Sept. 3 will have talented offensive playmakers surrounding him. Chris Polk may be the most underrated back in the entire nation, but he’s a workhorse who logged 1,415 yards on the ground in 2010. With an offensive line that played better late in the season, expect Polk to get plenty of carries to take the pressure off of the young quarterback.

When the Huskies do throw the football, there will be plenty of top targets available despite the loss of D’Andre Goodwin, who graduated, and Jordan Polk, who was dismissed from the team for a domestic violence charge. Jermaine Kearse remains the team’s top target, but receivers coach Jimmie Dougherty is intrigued by promising sophomore Kevin Smith and freshman DiAndre Campbell. Healthy again this spring, Devin Aguilar will look to finish his college career with a strong campaign after battling injuries last year. In addition, James Johnson is primed for an impact junior season.

If that wasn’t enough to make Husky Nation excited about this passing attack, Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams have generated a lot of buzz because of their immense talent and the impact they could have right away. Seferian-Jenkins is a 6-6 early enrollee who is a genetic freak. Williams won’t arrive until the summer, but he was named the Parade Magazine player of the year after accumulating 4,121 yards in high school.

The question remains, with Locker’s career in Seattle over, who will be connecting down the field with these talented playmakers?

Email dave.miller@nationalfootballpost.com or follow me on Twitter at Miller_Dave

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