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WSU begins preseason camp with more than a few questions to answer

WSU coach Mike Leach watches practice unfold earlier this week in Lewiston. (Tyler Tjomsland)
WSU coach Mike Leach watches practice unfold earlier this week in Lewiston. (Tyler Tjomsland)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • For those of you who have been waiting for Washington State football since, I don’t know, last December, today is the day. Not the first game of the 2015 season, mind you. Just the first practice. But it will have to do. Read on.

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• The Cougars open preseason practice today in Lewiston – their late-summer home away from home – and, as can be expected for a team coming off a 3-9 season, they have a lot of questions to answer. We have a bunch as well. So let’s get right to them.

• Why do people insist on calling the next few weeks fall camp or fall practice? Today is Aug. 8. Last I checked, fall – or its more formal alias, autumn – doesn’t begin until late September. By then, WSU will be three or four games into its season. So calling it fall camp isn’t quite accurate. Maybe it’s a term that harkens back to a simpler time when college football actually was a fall sport. Or maybe it just refers to fall in a generic way, an all-purpose term that covers practices in summer, fall and winter – if a bowl game beckons at the end of the season. Whatever. In the spirit of accurate journalism, we’ll call it preseason camp and leave it at that.

• Who is going to punt or kick for the Cougars? Let’s face it. Nineteen-yard field goals can be hard. And important. Which just might make Matt Abramo, a three-star recruit out of Petaluma, Calif., the Cougs most important recruit. WSU has six kickers listed on its roster, two punters and no one – not a single player – listed on its two-deep at the specialist positions. So who handle the punting – Erik Powell did it in the spring – or the kicking, or the long snapping or the kick returning, has to be determined over the next few weeks. Kicking the ball may not be as important as throwing, catching, running or tackling it, but it can mean the difference between winning and losing. Just ask any player who participated in the California debacle last season. So this is an area the Cougars have to figure out.

• Will new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch make a difference? Coaches are important. That’s why they earn the money they do. But players are even more important. If the Cougars don’t have enough talent, Buddy Ryan in his prime wouldn’t be successful as the defensive coordinator. There’s a feeling around Pullman the pieces are in place to take a big leap defensively, and one of those pieces is Grinch. A defensive backfield coach at Missouri, that’s the area he’s got to get playing better if WSU wants to take the next step in the Pac-12. There are 23 players vying to fill the five or six or seven or eight spots the Cougars need – WSU will play nickel as their base scheme, so eight strong defensive backs are a must, especially as the season wears on – to fill. Going into camp, four sophomores are listed as starters, with senior Taylor Taliulu the only upperclassman slated to start heading in. But Taliulu’s career has been up and down, as has the Cougars’ play back there. We should see over the next few weeks if any of the three true freshman cornerbacks or the three true freshman safeties have a chance of contributing.

• Who will be the starting quarterback? OK, that will be Luke Falk. Or Peyton Bender. Look, the decision will be up to Mike Leach and Mike Leach alone. You tell me if you think you have Leach figured out, because no one else does. He’ll make the decision, the winner will throw for more yards than I can walk in a week and that will be that.

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• WSU: Jacob Thorpe has enough links today in his morning post to keep you busy until he holds a live chat at 1 p.m. You’ll want to ask him a zillion questions starting at 1. ... Jacob also has a story in today’s paper listing players to watch as well as a blog post from yesterday that includes everything Leach had to say on his conference call. ... It’s Saturday, so I get to pass along the mailbag from ESPN.com’s Pac-12 blog. It also has a look at the camp questions for the Cougars. ... I saw this headline and immediately thought, it should have been “grandfather figure.” ... Speaking of former Palouse-area coaches, I found this story today while searching the web and thought I would pass it along.

• Gonzaga: The Showcase raised $1.83 million to fight cancer.

• Idaho: Sean Kramer has some thoughts and observations on Idaho’s third practice.

• Shock: Spokane will be facing a highly motivated opponent tonight in Las Vegas, as the Outlaws need to win to make the AFL playoffs. Jim Meehan has the advance.

• Indians: An afternoon game in Vancouver spelled the end of the Indians’ winning streak yesterday, as the Canadians came away with a 5-1 victory.

• Golf: It’s Saturday, which means we can pass along Jim’s weekly column. He updates us on our local professionals and how their seasons are going. Weird, I wondered about that this week and, viola, Jim answers the question. What a pro.

• Seahawks: The Hawks will play a “mock-game” today (read that as a upgraded scrimmage if you must), and there are a lot of things to watch. ... One of those won’t be Kam Chancellor, who is still holding out but staying in touch. ... Justin Britt is worth checking out at right tackle. ... As is Bobby Wagner, your typical blue collar linebacker. ... Yesterday’s practice was more of a mock-walk-through for the mock-game. ... The sad tale of Aldon Smith closed its 49er chapter yesterday as he was arrested again then cut by the team.

• Mariners: This is sort of what we envisioned when the season began. Hisashi Iwakuma throws well, the M’s Nelson Cruz and Robinson Cano hit back-to-back jacks in the sixth inning to give Seattle the lead and the bullpen, anchored by a stout ninth inning for a tough right-hander, preserves a 4-3 win over Texas. Of course, the ninth was not handled by Fernando Rodney, it was Carson Smith, but why quibble? ... Jamie Moyer will be inducted into the M’s Hall of Fame today. ... James Paxton is no longer wearing tape on his fingers. Baby steps, folks, baby steps.

• Sounders: Seattle needs more offense. So yesterday the team signed a South American striker, gave him enough money to make him a designated player and changed Osvaldo Alonso’s contract status. At some point the team will have three players – Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and the new hire, Nelson Valdez – to fit into what’s usually two spots. ... Portland earned a much-needed win last night.

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• Anyone headed to Lewiston today (or already down there, so you’ll just head over to practice)? It should be nice a toasty for everyone involved. Enjoy yourself. Until later ..




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Vince Grippi
Vince Grippi is a freelance local sports blogger for spokesman.com. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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