Leach knows all eyes on Cougs' QB spot

CONNOR HALLIDAY

THE RETURN OF Mike Leach to the sidelines might be the biggest storyline of Washington State's spring practice -- and the upcoming season. But discussion of the quarterbacks inevitably dominates the conversation. Leach discussed how he will divide the quarterback workload when practices start Thursday and much more.

Leach said quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday will split snaps with the caveat that can change daily. He said two other signal-callers, Cody Clements and David Gilbertson, also will see time in drills.

He did not provide a timetable for naming a starter, but said that the quarterbacks decision making and accuracy are the two most important factors in evaluating that position.

"Those two you cannot compromise," said Leach, adding that footwork, arm strength and intelligence also are important considerations when evaluating a passer.

Leach said the Halliday, who at 6-4, 179 pounds suffered a lacerated liver Nov. 19 against Utah, will be able to fully participate this spring. He added that he is not concerned about Halliday's or Tuel's ability to grasp his Air Raid offense. If that were an issue, Leach said he would have pursued a transfer to compete for the starting QB job.

As far as the offense is concerned, Leach thinks that unit should pick up the offense quickly.

"I think there will be a semblance of it after four practices," he said. "The idea is not to make it overcomplicated. The bulk of the time you want to develop your skills."

Leach said he will be watching the offensive line closely this spring. In addition to adjusting to the wider splits he prefers to use, he said that unit needs to develop depth.

One area where that is not a concern is wide receiver. Leach said the general height of the wide receivers has surprised him. At Texas Tech, Leach had great success with smaller receivers like Danny Amendola and Wes Welker -- neither were 6-feet tall. He said his only concern with the unit, with the exception of junior-to-be Marquess Wilson, is its experience.

"What I like about (Wilson) is, he always wants the ball. You turn on the film, he always wants the ball. He doesn't care about the situation -- 'Throw it to me,'" said Leach.

INTERESTINGLY, WHILE TIGHT END has not been listed as part of Leach's offense, he said he values the position.

"When you get a true tight end, that's more fun than a coach should have," he said.

Leach said senior-to-be Andrei Lintz could fill that role in addition to playing fullback. Aaron Dunn would also seem to be a prime candidate.

LEACH SAID THE biggest challenge this spring is teaching an entire roster a new system. Ideally, he likes upperclassmen working with newcomers and is hopeful that can happen during the summer when most freshmen and transfers arrive.

That especially will be true on the defensive side as the Cougars transition to coordinator Mike Breske's 3-4 scheme. Leach said he had a 3-4 alignment "in mind" when he hired Breske, but added that WSU will show a multiple front, at times including the 4-3, on defense. He said Breske will sort out whether certain players fit better on the defensive line or at linebacker. Others, such as senior-to-be Travis Long, will play multiple positions.

"He can do a lot," Leach said of Long. "He's really athletic and competitive. He's got a lot of dimension to him."

The Cougars also will have to find a new set of starting linebackers. Alex Hoffman-Ellis graduated, while two other starters, Sekope Kaufusi and C.J. Mizell, were dismissed from the program.

Leach wouldn't name players, but said some offensive players could move to linebacker. He did not seem too concerned about depth at that position, though.

"I think there will be some new faces and we're excited to see that," he said. "We have some good guys to work with."

Leach, who compiled an 84-43 record in 10 years at Texas Tech, said developing a rhythm to practice will be significant this spring.

"A lot of it mainly is getting as good as we possibly can at practicing," he said. "We really want to be good and efficient at practicing."

NOTABLE NOTES:
  • There has been a lot of discussion on CF.C's message boards about Peter Berg producing a documentary on Leach for HBO. Leach said he has not heard anything lately from Berg. "They came and shot for a couple of days," he said. "It was kind of the most boring days we've had."

  • Leach said the plan is to scrimmage each Saturday after the first one.

  • Saying that he often has been "miserably wrong" in his early assessments, Leach declined to name any freshmen he feels could contribute this season.

  • Leach does not anticipate adverse weather conditions keeping WSU off the field this spring. During his first spring at Texas Tech, Leach said there was heavy rain and wind followed by hail -- all within an hour. "It's flying off their helmets like popcorn," he said. But Leach said he did not want to wreck the "mojo" -- he showed an inspirational video to the team before practice -- and kept them out there. He said he likely will do the same with the Cougars even if it is snowing. "It might be a little like Lambeau Field," Leach said.

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