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Leach, decked out from head-to-toe in Cougar gear, said that all things considered, he couldn’t have been much happier following the nearly three hour practice. The Cougars were efficient and although there was plenty of shifting, everything ran smoothly.
“With the tentative nature and people getting used to the drills and us having to line them up, I thought it was really good,” Leach said. “It was literally the slowest practice of the year but getting familiar with the routine and having people bouncing around was good.”
Both Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday saw extensive action running with the first team. Tuel got the majority of the snaps, and looked exactly as he did last spring – impressive, (save for the 7-on-7 drills). Tuel, coming off a broken clavicle and calf injury in 2011, was firing the ball around left and right with plenty of zip.
“It felt really good to be out there and step into the pocket and throw the ball down the field,” Tuel said. “It just felt great to be a part of the game honestly.”
Halliday struggled a bit at times, and was forcing the ball on a few occasions. To close out practice, the team squared off for an 11-on-11 drill and Halliday was picked off twice, once by CB Daniel Simmons, and later by LB Eric Oertel, who has moved over from running back.
ALTHOUGH TUEL DIDN’T have any interceptions in the final drill, he was picked off more than a few times times during 7-on-7s. But Leach said he didn’t expected either QB to be in midseason form during their first practice in his new system.
“They all have some skills,” Leach said of the quarterbacks. “They were all focused in and had a lot of stuff rolling in their mind but still pulled the trigger pretty good. There were some turnovers and bad throws that I think will be alleviated as it becomes a little clearer and everything’s not moving so fast. I was encouraged.”
Tuel came back strong after one pick, adding a beautiful TD throw midway through practice. With Kristoff Williams lined up against Daniel Simmons, Tuel threw a 35-yarder over Williams shoulder -- a perfect throw and catch.
Both Tuel and Halliday will continue to split reps throughout the spring, Leach said.
“I come out here every practice and I play the same way,” Tuel said. “Competition is great because it brings out the best in you and the fact that I have someone like Connor to push me for the job is awesome. It’s only going to make both of us better and I’m loving it.”
AS FOR THE receivers, there was some electricity crackling around the field. Everyone expects Marquess Wilson to make spectacular leaping catches, which he did on Thursday. But Kristoff Williams, Bobby Ratliff, and walk-on Brett McDonald all jumped in on the fun.
All three had at least two diving or leaping catches that turned possible incompletions or turnovers into gains.
Ratliff had the play of the day when Halliday fired a 40-yard bomb his way. Somehow, Ratliff was able to come down with a diving catch as he and safety Deone Bucannon went crashing to the ground. Both safety Tyree Toomer and CB Daniel Simmons flew in to swat the ball away, but Ratliff still made an incredible catch.
“Our receiving corps is pretty deep,” Halliday said. “We look great there, and they’re pretty gassed because they ran their butts off today. I’m sure a lot of them will be in the cold tub tonight.”
PRACTICES AREN’T full contact yet so it’s hard to fully judge the line play on either side of the ball. But the o-line provided good protection and let few defenders within spitting distance of the QBs. Following practice, Leach said he was extremely pleased with the play of the hosses, especially since there was lots of player movement, with mixing and matching aplenty during drills.
Running with the first-team unit during 11-on-11 drills was RT Jake Rodgers, RG Elliot Bosch, C Taylor Meighen, LG John Fullington, and LT Dan Spitz. Both Bosch and Fullington saw plenty of action switching from guard to tackle during drills. Matt Goetz spent his afternoon running mostly with the 2s, but also saw some snaps with the starters as well.
The 2s on the line consisted of RT Rico Forbes, RG Moritz Christ, C Goetz, LG Chas Sampson, and LT Gunnar Eklund.
Leach said there will continue to be lots of movement throughout the rest of spring, but for the first day felt the unit did a solid job.
Leach was calm, cool and collected throughout practice, studying things intently for the most part. His assistant coaches were a different story, with the group more than a little amped up and cranking up the volume.
Leach after practice said his first day on the field as WSU’s head man was aces, and he’s just enjoying the ride.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Leach said. “It’s maybe even a little more exciting now because I have some players I have to get to know. I get to know each of them better and better and some of them really did some things and exceeded with I expected and I’m excited to see how they strung it together.”
Stay tuned a little later for a CF.C report on the defensive side of the ball...