PULLMAN – Tana Pritchard will never attempt a pass for Washington State, unlike the four years he spent as a quarterback at Clover Park High School, unlike the legacy established here by uncle Jack Thompson in the 1970s.
But that quarterback lineage is still worth plenty.
“He’s got some really good football intelligence,” said WSU linebackers coach Ken Wilson. “He’s been a quarterback, he sees things like a quarterback, so I like the way he learns. I like the way he can direct the defense out there.”
He must. Pritchard, a third-year sophomore who was closer to the bottom of the depth chart than the top of it when last season began, is looking more and more like he could be WSU’s starting weakside linebacker by the time August arrives.
The 6-foot-3, 217-pound native of Lakewood, Wash., has impressed coaches with his athleticism and football instincts, and is battling senior Justin Sagote for reps with the No. 1 defense at the WIL linebacker position.
Most of those reps have gone to Pritchard, though Sagote was also nicked up for a couple of practices.
“We’ve had a lot of great practices, the both of us,” Pritchard said after Tuesday’s workout. “And it was a great experience. It was really competitive this spring.”
Sagote started most of last season, surpassing Chester Su’a on the depth chart early in the year. Su’a has yet to practice this spring for undisclosed reasons.
Pritchard has, and he’s done it pretty well.
“Your second spring is so much different than your first spring, because you’ve been in the defense, in my case, for a whole year,” Pritchard said. “I’ve been running the plays for a whole season, and then coming into an environment where you’re competing for a job is fun.”
There is work to do yet. Wilson wants him to be heavier by the time fall camp opens.
“He’s got to get physically big enough to last a whole season,” Wilson said. “His summer job is going to be to eat and lift and be able to play multiple plays, and as much as his body will let him play, he’ll be in the rotation.
“He’s competing to start, so he’s done as good as he can do right now. He’s right in the battle with Justin. I think that’ll go into fall.”
Sagote, who recorded 61 tackles last season – good for third on the team – said he isn’t too concerned about the competition at this point. It’s always going to be there.
“I don’t really think about it, but it’s going to be there,” Sagote said. “When I see someone in front of me I just work harder. That’s how I think of it.
“I feel like we’re a lot better. Me and Tana, we both know the position better than last year, and as a whole defensive squad I think we’re way further than we were.”
Both players are benefiting from a streamlined defensive playbook, something coach Mike Leach said should help the Cougars’ defense operate a little smoother.
“I think we let ourselves get talked into trying to do a little too much (last year),” Leach said. “I think they’ve done a great job as far as teaching and coaching specifically what they want to accomplish, and you can see it in how fast they move and how efficient they move, and I think it’s really paid off.”
Especially for Pritchard.
“We’ve cut some stuff out, added some new stuff. We have coach Wilson kind of installing some of his stuff,” Pritchard said. “It’s been great having the old stuff kind of filter back through that worked for us, and also adding some new stuff is helping us out, too.”