From Pullman — Today marks the final day before the Washington State football team puts the pads back on and takes the field for spring practice. Head coach Mike Leach met with the media this afternoon to preview the upcoming 15 practices and also gave his thoughts on Daquawn Brown's standing on the team and efforts by Northwestern University football players to form a union.
All that after the jump.
Thoughts on the offseason?
Think the offseason is going good, it’s a far cry from complete. I guess you could say we’re about half done but looking around the room we had a remarkable number of players that played for us last year that had never been through a college offseason so, you know, I think that’s very needed.
We have had a lot of enthusiasm, guys have worked hard so we’re excited about the opportunity we’ve had to improve. But we’ve got a long ways to go and (we are) looking forward to continuing to move the needle here in the spring.
Does your approach to spring practice change with so many returnees?
No, it really doesn’t because we’re still very much a developmental squad. It’s good to have some faces back but they are all early in their careers and so have a long ways to improve. Spring doesn’t really change a lot, you know, because you’re constantly evaluating how people have developed and then you’re tinkering with a couple new things and you’re trying to arm these guys with as many skills and things as you can as they go into the next offseason, work amongst themselves and run and lift that they can continue to improve at a high rate so that they can improve at a high rate so they’re the best they can be in camp in order to win a starting spot or develop depth.
Can the upperclassmen now do more to teach the younger players?
I don’t know if we have any upperclassmen, I guess Connor’s an upperclassman. Well, we don’t have a lot of upperclassmen but those that we do have we’re really excited about how they’re going to help all the others.
Are any players set as the starter?
Everything is a competition. People have the opportunity to beat one another out and you’ll learn your job every day. With that said the reps will be split up, guys that are ahead or performing better will get more reps to try to further develop their skills but, yeah, as we go through spring that will impact the number of reps you get.
Of course, that’s not going to declare anything, necessarily, if you get reps in the spring. Once you go to camp you do it all over again.
Are the three new starters on the offensive line set in those positions or is it fluid?
Nothing is set, nothing is set. The guys that started last year, they’re not set either so they’ve got to go battle it out.
How much are the players motivated by the bowl loss?
I don’t know, I think that everybody was committed to working hard and I think that we’ve steadily improved. We’ve just got to find ways to do it quicker and more efficiently.
What are some of the main areas you would like to address over spring football?
Really kind of what I said but just continue to refine our skills, get better at timing, get more familiar with everybody and how they’ve developed. And then also discover new things and new abilities that people have developed and try to capitalize on those and get them on the field.
Did anyone stand out to you in offseason workouts?
I’d say just sort of overall. Overall I think people worked really hard. More of an overall thing I guess, there are a few individuals who I’m sure did well but we don’t have a lot of guys looking for ways to get out of work. They’re all collectively working pretty hard and those that are looking for the easy way are quickly getting outnumbered.
At a crowded position like running back how do you split up the reps?
Well that whole position is chomping at heels. I think (Marcus) Mason was a steady guy last year, did some good things. At the end of the year, I guess the hottest running back we had at the end of the year was (Theron) West and a lot of that took place in the bowl workouts and then he had a pretty good game in the bowl game. And then (Jamal) Morrow looked really good as he redshirted and did a lot of good things there so it will be a very competitive position and (Gerard) Wicks is a big guy that runs well.
How important is it for the young defensive backs to have a big spring?
I think they all do, there are plenty of jobs open (in the secondary). I think the corner position will be really competitive and I think the safety positions will too. That’s the thing that will be really interesting to see is a bunch of people there haven’t played a lot so they’ll be fighting it out to see who gets more playing time.
How much does it help to have your entire staff return for spring practices?
I think it’s really good, I think it’s big. We’ve got a great staff, we do a lot of really good things together so it’s great to have them. It’s the best staff I’ve ever been on and it’s great to have everybody.
Could you talk about the decision to put Destiny Vaeao at defensive end?
It’s not a dramatic change, there are a lot of similarities between (BUCK and defensive end) anyways and he does some good things and just get him on the field and also we’ve got some other guys, Ivan McClennan’s available, Emmitt Sua-Kalio’s available also so we’ve got a little more depth than we had.
How is Sebastian LaRue picking up the Air Raid offense?
Hard to say, haven’t worked with him yet. He’s just been through the offseason. We’ll know more as we get into spring.
What is your message to the team heading into spring?
There is always a message, there is always a message and typically it’s linked to having a vision of your potential and the necessity of hard work to take you there. Occasionally there are some little things you might address as far as how to get there or what. But basically it’s the overall “keep raising the bar, keep chasing your goal and each day is an opportunity to take a step,” and go from there.
Is Tyler Bruggman capable of pushing Halliday this spring?
I think Bruggman and (Luke) Falk are both capable of pushing him. Both really have a good skill set. Connor’s got the advantage in experience and we’re going to have the opportunity to rep a lot of them. We’ll run two pass skeletons throughout spring and rotate guys around so they’ll all have a lot of reps.
Is Wes Concepcion the guy at punter or do you have other candidates?
Well we’ve got several walk-ons we’re going to look at and see what they’re able to do. Of course, Concepcion did some good things, too, so we’re excited about him. We’re going to see how much he’s improved and he’s certainly a good starting point and it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if he wins the job but if he doesn’t then some quality guy behind him will.
Can you give us an overview of LaRue’s ability?
Really quick, really quick. Seems to be pretty instinctive football-wise. Smart, the biggest thing is how explosive he is out of his cuts and things and he does have some sense and knowledge of how to play receiver. Beyond that really we just have to have the chance to go out there and work with him where we’re allowed to have balls.
What is your opinion of the National Labor Relations Board ruling that Northwestern football players can unionize?
You know I’m not for or against any of it. I think whatever happens on anything like that within Division-I it needs to be the same. I think that also there’s a lot of considerations on it. If somebody wants to be regarded as a professional then actually it kind of suits me because if these guys are professionals and they want everything to be like it is in the NFL then shortly we’re going to be having a draft and I for one would be pretty excited about having a whole nation full of quality athletes to draft from.
So I’m looking forward to that. But there are other considerations, too. The lacrosse team – are they professionals? The tennis team – are they professionals? Softball, soccer – are they professionals? But at any rate, if everything with regard to football, for example, is going to be like the NFL that means if somebody doesn’t perform well I guess you pay them less, if somebody performs really well I guess you pay them more. Although, obviously, every team should have the same salary cap.
In addition to that you have the opportunity to draft anybody you want so, and maybe I’m wrong, but it follows that if we’re going to professionalize all of this stuff, it kind of follows that handle it like professionals do, doesn’t it?
Is there any thought to moving a receiver to defensive back?
We’ve just got to see. We’ve got a lot of new faces out there and we’ll have to see what their skill sets are. There are always thoughts how to get everybody on the field, I mean everybody has got certain athletic talent set and you try to identify what they are and try to get them on the field as fast as you can.
How much of a priority is the secondary?
I think they’re a priority. I guess you would say we’re a little more balanced team as far as – we’re a young team but we’re a little more balanced as far as having bodies assigned to the positions. It’s not like you have zero of this and in some cases we’ve got people that on the outside they haven’t heard of but we feel good about them.
So we’re a little more balanced as far as that goes but as far as where I think it will be kind of dynamic, you know, who becomes starters and some things I would say the secondary, I would say the offensive line, perhaps running back, too.
Is Daquawn Brown a member in good standing?
We’re going to have to wait and see how everything unfolds. I mean, right now it’s appearing most of what’s come out and been spewed around has been greatly embellished so we’ll just have to see how all that comes out.
Has the team embraced the bowl game as a baseline?
We’ve got to go to one every year, I’ve always felt that way. Go to one every year. But that starts by winning one game a week a lot, you know.
What do you hope to see Connor improve in this spring?
Really overall just keep developing, keep improving, keep developing the chemistry kind of between him and the receivers and just his command of the offense as far as reacting quickly and anticipating and seeing things.