March 22, 2012 in Sports

Blanchette: Leach’s debut lacks spectacle, not tempo

By The Spokesman-Review
 

PULLMAN – Where was the marching band?

The Mike Leach era – Washington State football as You’ve Never Seen it – made the first tentative steps from the abstract to the earnest here Thursday with actual troops on the ground and the man himself swaddled in crimson.

Where were the helicopters circling for aerial shots?

This, it’s been widely agreed, is Wazzu’s first true sit-down at the table of no-limit college football. This was the mad scientist of the forward pass finally at work in his laboratory.

Where were the Cessnas towing banners of welcome?

The athletic director flew all the way to Margaritaville to interview this guy while the old head coach was still doing his job – that’s how much this deal had to get done. And now the maestro and his men were actually getting the players lined up right and flooding the zones with receivers, as promised.

Shouldn’t the student managers have ferried Leach in on a sedan chair of something?

It just felt so much like, well, another practice.

OK, maybe not just another practice.

“The tempo was ridiculous today,” cornerback Daniel Simmons said. “I never took so many reps in 7-on-7 drills. I was gassed. But I had to work through it, because that’s what it’s going to be like.”

What do you know?

Sometimes plain old work is the way a renaissance gets started.

And the Cougars worked – the actual by-gum practicing coming in at a shade under three hours on a crisp day that saw patches of snow rimming Rogers Field.

“If you’re a player, you love it,” Leach said of the conditions. “You run around and don’t sweat and it’s fantastic. If you’re a coach, you get to check out your gear and see how it fits.”

Leach began the day wearing shades that a few clouds soon made unnecessary, but his overall view was mostly rosy: “Didn’t have too many hesitators. Thought the enthusiasm was great. There were some explosive plays on both sides.”

And there were – some wonderful one-on-ones pitting receiver against cover man, the most entertaining being Kristoff Williams head-up against Simmons in the 7-on-7s. There were even some explosive tempers, as when defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi and a young offensive lineman got into a minor tussle.

It is next-to-pointless trying to gauge degrees of departure from the regime of former coach Paul Wulff to the approach of Leach in the tenor of just one practice – especially one, as Leach pointed out, in which the action is being stopped every 30 seconds for a coach to say, “Like this, not like that.”

But there is a difference, and it’s mostly psychological.

“There’s a lot more pressure for people – the first time for coaches to see you and see what you’ve got,” quarterback Jeff Tuel said. “Guys were geared up and excited. You can see how they coach and let them see who you are.

“It was a blast.”

It was certainly instructive to watch Leach’s five quarterbacks all throwing at once to five receivers fanned out in their respective routes, with the coach calling out the read progressions: “Second is the wheel, third is the curl, fourth is the return …”

But no more so than to listen to the soundtrack of lament from defensive coordinator Mike Breske: “What the hell are we playing? … Can we line up right? … That was a lousy blitz.”

So much of the anticipation of Leachball, of course, is the pitching and catching, and that will certainly restore some fannies to the seats initially. So it’s easy for the other positions to be relegated to airspace under the radar.

(Especially linebacker, at which there is almost no one anybody has heard of thanks to the winter dismissals of C.J. Mizell and Sekope Kaufusi after legal run-ins. The appearance of two police officers at practice, then, was a little unsettling, until it was seen that Leach invited them to address the players after practice.)

Simmons knows what names go on the marquee on a Leach team, but understands the Cougs have broader concerns. He also knows the secondary can’t get anything but better working against the offensive air force.

“We have expectations to uphold, too, and we’re going to do that,” he said.

It was hard to escape the parallels of Day 1 for Team Leach and the skeleton of the ongoing pressbox-and-suites addition to Martin Stadium as its backdrop. The anticipation of this Cougar football upgrade has been palpable, starting with the 1,100 new donors who signed on after Leach signed on.

Maybe that’s why the lack of, well, spectacle was striking. Along the railing above the library south of the field, the audience never topped 20 – and was gone completely by the time the final whistle blew.

Where was everybody?

Well, it was just another practice, right?

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