FROM PULLMAN — We are back on the Palouse, enjoying the comforting reliability of the nightly flight from Seattle zooming overhead around 11 p.m. each night, and we have some notes from Mike Leach's pre-camp teleconference to pass along.
(I'm not being sarcastic about hearing that flight come in every night, either. Life's few consistencies should be appreciated.)
– The first question was about spring practice and whether Leach learned anything about his team from those 15 workouts.
“I think just a team, overall, (it) was real cohesive,” Leach said. “I thought in spring, as a team we played together. I thought rather than a lot of individuals that were so quick to let any level of discouragement fracture the effort, I thought some guys began to emerge as leaders and I thought that we started to develop a little depth at several positions, and we were able to play with more than six offensive linemen was helpful.”
And who were those leaders?
“I thought (Connor) Halliday did a really good job in the offseason,” Leach said. “I think Darryl Monroe has. I think Xavier Cooper has, I think Elliott Bosch has, I think Deone Bucannon has, I think Gunnar Eklund has, I think Kristoff Williams has.”
– Asked what WSU needs to improve upon most, Leach said: “We need to get better overall. We’re still kind of more explosive than consistent. We need to get more consistent. Really, one thing spring was a big step toward (was) everybody getting used to the package, things going kind of automatic and things like that. We just need to keep improving at that.”
– Leach was asked about strengths on the offensive and defensive lines: “Defensive line we’ve got a number of guys. We’re young-ish, but we’ve got a pretty good number of guys that I think can do some good things. Offensive line we’re relatively young, we’ve got a lot of guys that haven’t played as much as they might have, but we've got to get experience as fast as we can out on the practice field and play as fast as we can.”
– Leach was again asked about moving the first 10 days of camp to Lewiston, and he again said it was mostly due to construction. He's checked out the practice site — Sacajawea Junior High — and said it looks good.
– As for WSU's running game — or, more specifically, the running back position — Leach is optimistic about the Cougars' chances of improving.
“If we’re playing really well, our running backs, the position, will lead the conference in all-purpose yards,” Leach said. “I don’t know if we’re quite there yet between rushing the football and receiving it, and it’s an important role and getting that esteablished is important to us. (Teondray) Caldwell and (Marcus) Mason both had pretty good springs. Hopefully they can continue to improve from there.”
– More on Halliday, who is the presumptive starter at quarterback: “He continued to polish his skill. He’s the most experienced quarterback we have, (which) helps him a little bit too. He continued to improve what he does. … Halliday continued to improve his ability to utilize dimensions of the whole offense. … Now I think he’s a little better as far as reading things and utilizing the weapons.”
– Leach was asked several questions about Auburn, WSU's opponent in its opener on Aug. 31. He said that film study “never really ends,” but that they're more focused on improving their own game at present. But he did say they'll study Arkansas State footage to get a feel for Gus Malzahn's offense, and that they'll study Auburn footage to get a feel for the kind of personnel they'll face.
Leach also called Auburn a “good team,” saying they're “well-coached” and “pretty loaded with personnel with recruiting classes.”
– Asked to expand on what skills Halliday possesses that are better than WSU's other quarterbacks, Leach said “we’re about to find out, because they’re going to go head to head starting out in camp.”
– Leach again praised the progression of Austin Apodaca, saying he's still working toward “everything becoming quick and automatic,” but that his performance in the spring was “really impressive.”
– Asked to expand on comments made last week about the bottom half of the Pac-12 being better than the bottom half of the SEC, Leach said that “It’s difficult to say … The top level of the SEC is really good, there’s no question about that. I thought the Pac-12 was really a solid conference from top to bottom. I do think the bottom half of the Pac-12 is really good compared to other conferences.”
– Unsurprisingly, Leach was emphatic in stating that every position is up for grabs.
“Even if you’re not battling specifically, every one of them are battling t be starters, first of all,” Leach said. “That’s just a fact. The other thing is even within that, you’re battling how many reps you get, whatever you do in some play, some dimension of the game.
“I get asked that some, and it is kind of a befuddling question to me. Some of the starters last year, like on this whole wealth of success of the past, positions are so up, it’s not going to be competitive because all of a sudden we don’t want to hurt this guys feelings by benching his ass and playing someone ahead of him?That’s not quite the philsoohpy we share. I don’t know how that notion gets out. Every one of these guys needs to go out and earn their … every day.
– Leach said his perceptions of the Pac-12 haven't changed after his first season coaching in the conference.
“I have respect for the defenses in the Pac-12, although they change quite a lot. There’s a lot of new coaches in this conference. I think they’re good defenses and we have a good mixture of defensive coaches and offensive coaches in this conference.”
– Leach was asked about incoming receiver Vince Mayle weighing in at 240 pounds on WSU's most updated roster. Leach said that last he heard, Mayle was 238 pounds and 13 percent body fat, so it doesn't sound like there is any concern about his size.
Another interesting note: Mayle is listed as a senior on WSU's roster, which is a bit puzzling considering the fact that he played at a junior-college last season. But Leach said WSU is gathering information in order to petition the NCAA for an extra year of eligiblity.
– I asked Leach if he had any inlking during last season's camp that the regular season would play out the way it did. He said he had some idea, because “we were just so thin, and every team’s thin a little bit. We knew we had to play a lot of freshmen, a lot of guys that had never played college football before, and then offensive-line wise, we had a couple injuries in camp that made it worse and ended up playing the season with six guys. We were undersized.”
How good of a feel for the season does fall camp provide?
“I’d say impressions leaving camp are fairly accurate, although things shift around a little bit,” Leach said. “But I think it’s fairly accurate when you leave camp.”
– You can tell how excited Leach is about the construction of WSU's new football operations building, because that was the subject about which he pontificated most.
Asked about the specific advantages it provides, he said that, first and foremost, it will be easier to communicate with other staff members and players without having to schedule appointments or hoping to luck out and run into them in the hallway. That process is streamlined when everyone is on the same floor, or at least in the same building. As it stands now, the football program's personnel is spread over four floors.
Leach also said he thinks players will be more likely to want to stick around the facility before and after practices, because they'll have a barber chair, TVs, games, training table, etc.
– Leach again praised the progression of his team during the offseason. Particularly across the offensive line.
“We’ve got more guys out there playing offensive line, and we’re able to split up into two teams for spring football which I thought was really productive,” Leach said. “In order to keep the units somewhat even, guys have to play beside people they’re not used to playing beside. We’ve got more depth, we’ve got pretty good enthusiasm, we’ve got just the overall improvement and based on what I’ve seen in the weight room, we’re a little bigger and stronger, I think the offseason’s been tremendous for us, which we desperately needed.”
– The team doesn't depart for Lewiston until tomorrow morning, though players were to report to Pullman today and there will be a lengthy team meeting tonight, Leach said.
Among the topics: Pullman Police Chief Gary Jenkins will address the team to discuss the kind of things a police chief discusses with young men who play college football, Leach will run down the program's “do's and don'ts,” and cover any other expectations there may be.
“It’s just sort of overall program philosophy material, so everyone’s on the same page,” Leach said.
– As for how this year's team might compare to last year's: “I think we’re significantly better, especially the attitude and that type of thing. Just our work ethic is significantly higher. Last year we had a lot of push, and then it got tough.”