PULLMAN – Whoever finishes second in Washington State’s quarterback battle will not be able to blame a lack of opportunities.
That much was evident fairly early in the Cougars’ 3-hour practice on Thursday, their first of 15 spring sessions under new coach Mike Leach and his staff.
“I can probably count on one hand how many times they ran the ball,” senior safety Tyree Toomer said. “That ball was flying through the air a lot.”
Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday, as expected, took the majority of the repetitions during the 11-on-11 team session toward the end of practice. Per NCAA rules, pads are not allowed during the first two practices of the spring, so players are wearing just helmets and shorts for now.
Leach said he introduced a little less than one-third of the team’s passing plays, most of them verticals, though he said there were some wrinkles to those base formations that will be added later.
“Next time around, we’ll do another third,” Leach said.
It’s evident that the new offense will take some getting used to. Both Tuel and Halliday struggled at times with reads – Halliday threw two interceptions during the team session, and Tuel threw at least two during 7-on-7 drills – but Leach said it was nothing that can’t be fixed.
“They all have some skills,” Leach said. “I thought they all kind of focused in. They’ve got a lot of stuff rolling through their mind, but I thought still pulled the trigger pretty good. There were some turnovers and bad throws that I think will be alleviated as it becomes a little bit more clear and it’s not moving so fast.”
Tuel, a senior, might be a little sorer for his efforts come this morning than in past seasons. But that’s no problem, he said.
“It’s more throwing than we’ve done in the past, but it was a blast,” Tuel said. “I had a lot of fun doing it. It’s only going to make us better, and the more throwing the better for me. If that’s what we do every day, then I’m going to have a lot of fun.”
“Our receiving corps is pretty deep,” said Halliday, a redshirt sophomore. “They’re pretty gassed. They ran their butts off today.”
Practice was noncontact, though Halliday did take an incidental hit “right to the liver,” which he lacerated last season in a Nov. 18 game against Utah.
“It is what it is; it’s frustrating,” Halliday said of Thursday’s accidental contact. “I played a game with it, so I can get through it. It just sucks.”
Leach said it was the slowest practice the team will have this spring, simply because of players figuring out where to go and where to stand from one drill to the next.
Whenever that was the case, they were reminded very quickly – and loudly – of where they were supposed to be.
“They got after us a little bit today if guys weren’t lined up right or misaligned,” Toomer said.
“We took the coaching and we tried to execute as best we can.”
“Next practice, we’ll know where we stand about half the time,” Leach joked.
There were also some apparent position changes. Eric Oertel was back at linebacker after being listed as a running back, a switch Leach said Oertel preferred. Former fullbacks Jared Byers and Corey Laufasa were also practicing at linebacker. Kyle Lappano, listed at running back, was working with the defensive backs. Dylan Rabinowitz, listed as a tight end, was working with the defensive line.
“We had guys bouncing around good,” Leach said. “Didn’t have too many hesitators. I thought the enthusiasm was great. There were some explosive plays on both sides. … There’s all kinds of polishing to do and stuff like that, but we didn’t have to spur anybody to (not) be afraid to make a play, so I thought that was pretty good.”
Skylar Stormo, a former defensive end who is no longer with the team, was forced to give up football after suffering a back injury in January. He will remain in school and is on pace to graduate in May with a degree in finance, according to his mother. … A number of players rode exercise bikes or went through conditioning drills on the side. Cornerback Nolan Washington, tight end Gordy Anderson, safety Jack Wilson, cornerback Spencer Waseem, cornerback Travion Smith, offensive lineman Joe Dahl, defensive end Hamza Griffin and defensive tackle David Davis were all limited in some capacity. As a policy, Leach does not disclose injury details. … Senior offensive lineman Wade Jacobson, who had back surgery last season, participated in all but the team session.