O-LINE GETS IN THEIR WORK
PULLMAN -- Cougar signal callers were visibly knocking the rust off on Day One of spring ball, though the defense and weather didn’t make throwing the ball any easier. Among the fresh faces that impressed, a BUCK linebacker who was running like a deer and chasing down ballcarriers. We run down the offensive line two-deeps plus all the starters, talk to Cougar players and coaches and much more.
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Neither junior Connor Halliday, nor freshman Austin Apodaca did much for their bid in snagging the starting quarterback position Wednesday after both struggled mightily Thursday. Halliday threw a handful of interceptions, while Apodaca wrestled with finding his aim for much of the afternoon in the helmets-only session.
Halliday threw four interceptions on the afternoon -- one each to redshirt seniors Mitchell Peterson and Matthew Bock, and two to redshirt sophomore Tana Pritchard.
Halliday hit on quite a few deep balls, but struggled forcing the ball on route tree drills.
Apodaca seemed to be aiming the ball for a majority of the afternoon, apprehensive in his delivery -- understandable for a guy who’s never taken a snap with the first or second team offenses.
REGARDLESS OF WHO ends up capturing the job, head coach Mike Leach believes the energy around the program is higher than it was last season coming from a team standpoint.
“We’ve had pretty good enthusiasm this offseason,” Leach said. “We’ll develop our skills some more. Some of these starters are a year older now, so.”
Leach believes Halliday will be the favorite this spring in the quarterback battle and Halliday agrees. He said he thinks he’s got a foot forward on the quarterback battle, but doesn’t discount the talent Apodaca brings to the table.
“I’m always confident in myself,” Halliday said. “Austin’s a great quarterback as well though so we’ll see how it goes this spring.”
One thing that certainly wasn’t helping the QBs make an impression on the coaches was the weather.
Thursday saw snow, rain, hail, sunshine and 35mph gusts during practice, not to mention temperatures approaching freezing.
The schizophrenic weather is nothing new to Halliday, something he’ll certainly use to his advantage in developing this spring.
“I looked at the weather last night and the high was 38,” Halliday said. “It was kind of tough with new footballs and all.”
Halliday has ‘made his money’ in the snow during his Cougar career, breaking the doors off the Pac-12 with his record-breaking performance against Arizona State at home as a freshman.
WHO WILL BE protecting Halliday (or Apodaca) this season may be the real question.
The Cougs offensive line Thursday was as follows:
LT: Gunnar Eklund
LG: John Fullington
C: Elliott Bosch
RG: Matt Goetz
RT: Rico Forbes
LT: Eduardo Middleton
LG: Joe Dahl
C: Zach Brevick
RG: Niu Sale
RT: Jacob Seydel
While these 10 predominantly got the most run on the afternoon, it’s a fluid situation with a number of other candidates, including freshmen Sam Flor and Denzell Dotson, seeing the field regularly.
Nevertheless, offensive line coach Clay McGuire looked like a happy man. He’s got bodies, healthy bodies, and healthy bodies means healthy competition in the trenches.
“We’re optimistic,” McGuire said. “There’s a lot of negativity towards last season but when you go back and look at the film there’s a lot of positives to take away.”
With only six or so available bodies at McGuire’s disposal last season, he said complacency and fatigue contributed to a lackluster performance up front. He said with so many guys competing this season, the battles are wide open.
“There’s a push factor now,” McGuire said. “We’re going to establish depth, and that’s a good thing.”
One of those young, fresh bodies looking to make an immediate impact is freshman Eduardo Middleton. The Oceanside, Calif. native said he’s looking to come in and crack the two-deeps right out of the gate, hopefully start.
“I want to keep growing and get play this season,” Middleton said. “I want to get this team to that bowl game.”
McGuire couldn’t agree more, adding that Middleton, who is still only 18-years-old, is making giant strides.
“Solid first day,” McGuire said. “There’s some things he needs to improve on, but he’s a pretty smart kid and tries real hard.”
ON THE DEFENSIVE side of the ball, a few guys made their presences felt early and often.
BUCK Ivan McLennan, a junior college transfer who arrived in January, is a physical freak.
His speed looked off the charts Thursday, and the pressure he created coming off the edge from the BUCK was undeniable.
One of the more underrated qualities of McLennan’s game is his high-intensity motor. On countless occasions, the Cougs would run the ball to the other side, away from McLennan -- but he continued to make play after play running down the ball-carrier.
Elsewhere, Pritchard not only nabbed two picks, but he also knocked down a third ball, all with the second-team defense.
Pritchard has already made an impression on defensive coordinator Mike Breske this offseason, and looks poised to continue his push for extensive playing time.
Not only were the Cougs battling the elements Thursday, but the also had to push through an incredible ruckus being created from the construction being done at the Football Operations Building site, located in the west end zone. Heavy machinery cluttered the air, noticeably making communication more difficult for coaches and players.
Here are the Cougs’ starting units on Day One:
**It is important to note, extensive rotations took place throughout the entire afternoon and these 1’s were fluid.
QB: Connor Halliday and Austin Apodaca
RB: Teondray Caldwell and Marcus Mason
X: Dominique Williams (Enormous rotations at each WR position)
Z: Kristoff Williams (Enormous rotations at each WR position)
Y: Brett Bartolone (Enormous rotations at each WR position)
H: Rickey Galvin (Enormous rotations at each WR position)
LT: Gunnar Eklund
LG: John Fullington
C: Elliot Bosch
RG: Matt Goetz
RT: Rico Forbes
LE: Matthew Bock
NT: Ioane Gauta
RE: Xavier Cooper
BUCK: Ivan McLennan and Kache Palacio
SAM: Cyrus Coen
MIKE: Darryl Monroe
WILL: Justin Sagote
CB: Anthony Carpenter
FS: Casey Locker
SS: Deone Bucannon
CB: Damante Horton
• Junior BUCK Logan Mayes was on crutches with an apparent right leg injury and did not participate.
• Freshman CB Alex Jackson did not appear physically limited, but did not participate in today’s drills.
• Former walk-on QB, freshman Connor Johnson, has been transitioned to the tight-end spot in certain formations.
• Due to only having three quarterbacks at practice, the Cougs had to rely on two equipment managers to run their route tree drills.