SEATTLE - The air horn sounded ending warm-ups on a blazing afternoon that really didn't need any. Johnny Nansen then gathered the team at midfield.

"Let's GO baby!!!" the assistant coach bellowed amid the players' roars. "You gotta LOVE it!"

They did.

Soon, Keith Price lofted a 40-yard pass perfectly inside the sideline to Cody Bruns. The exquisite throw beat the blanket coverage freshman Shaq Thompson had on the senior wide receiver's flag route.

Jesse Callier and Bishop Sankey zipped inside the tackles on the first two plays of a run scrimmage. Running backs coach Joel Thomas exuberantly followed each through the hole, exhorting them to finish their runs toward the end zone. Tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins made a couple of remarkable, only-he-could-reach-it catches, just as he did during his impressive freshman season last fall.

Yes, the Huskies are back.

"Oh, man, I'm excited I'm back here!" Price said after Monday's first practice of fall camp.

The redshirt junior quarterback that broke UW records with 33 touchdown passes and a completion percentage of 66.9 last season was wearing his signature, huge grin after an offseason in which he gained weight and worked in Louisiana with Peyton and Eli Manning.

"Oh, yeah, I'm ready," he said after looking sharp in the 2-hour, 25-minute practice on the East Field behind Husky Stadium's renovation. "I wouldn't be here (if I wasn't)."

Coach Steve Sarkisian declared expectations are higher than they've been in any of his three previous seasons leading Washington. UW has gone 5-7, 7-6 and 7-6 under him, with appearances in the Holiday and Alamo bowls the last two years.

He believes these Dawgs are mentally tough enough to strive for those loftier goals in 2012.

"It's constantly talked about, our being mentally tough," Sarkisian said a couple hours before Monday's opening practice, before adding wryly: "The day I sit up here in front of you guys and say we are a mentally weak team, I'm in trouble.

"I like to think we kind of exude mental toughness. We've dealt with a lot of adversity over three years and we'll get faced with more along the way.

"What I do know is we are not flying under the radar anymore. Teams have circled us on their schedules. You have to understand where you are and the lay of the land. That's where we are at. We aren't sneaking up on anybody anymore."

Nobody snuck up on anyone during UW's first practice of this season.

The defense picked up where it ended during April's practices and the spring game. It attacked the line of scrimmage, blanketed receivers and challenged the passes of Price, redshirt freshman Derrick Brown and true freshmen Cyler Miles and Jeff Lindquist - whom Sarkisian each praised for poise and not having any glaring errors such as fumbled snaps in their first college practices.

Thompson ripped the ball from Jamaal Jones to steal an interception on a slant route. During 11-on-11 team scrimmaging, defensive end Talia Crichton -- who Sarkisian says has been preparing and practicing as well as he ever has -- rushed in on Price to force a shoveled, bail-out pass to Callier. Safety Justin Glenn then raced into the backfield and poked the ball from Callier's arm. Defensive end Josh Shirley sped as he has since April and returned the fumble down the sidelines for a touchdown.

"It was a really competitive practice. We saw the playmaking ability of some of the guys," Sarkisian said. "It was encouraging."

The scrimmaging was so intense for being in only helmets and shorts, Sarkisian had to get on some guys for going too hard too soon.

The coach saw that as encouraging, too.

"These guys, man, it's like they've been Dawgs tied up on the porch and we finally took the leashes off. And they're goin'. And they want to go. I love that about them," the coach said after practice.

"We have to learn how to practice when we are not in pads."

The Huskies are returning Price and top receiving targets Seferian-Jenkins and Kasen Williams on offense, plus eight starters on a defense that has four new assistants -- including aggressive coordinator Justin Wilcox.

Sarkisian believes the national perception of his fourth-year program is positive, eight months after Price set a modern bowl record with seven total touchdowns and the Huskies put up 56 points in a wild Alamo Bowl with Heisman Trophy-winner Robert Griffin III and Baylor.

Sarkisian thinks even that loss in San Antonio last December is turning into a positive this August for his Huskies.