PULLMAN – How pleased was Mike Leach with Washington State’s spring practices this year?
Well, he was asked after Tuesday’s spring finale to name one player whose improvement during the last month stood out to him the most.
Leach did name one player. Then he named 11 more.
Austin Apodaca, the second-year freshman quarterback, was the first name out of Leach’s mouth. Several offensive linemen and receivers followed, as well as some defensive backs, a defensive lineman, a linebacker.
“We’re better at every position,” Leach said. “I can’t think of a position we’re not better at. We’re still not as deep as we’d like to be. We’re more cohesive. Guys’ efforts complement one another rather than just a series of individual efforts that are threaded together.”
So by Leach’s estimation, the Cougars threaded together a solid spring – one better, certainly, than the disjointed session of a year ago.
At that time, Leach and his staff were still trying to lay the groundwork for what was expected in drills – including how to simply line up and transition between sessions – as well as installing plays on both sides of the ball.
“Guys know how to work, where in last year we had some guys who would try hard but sometimes it was lip service more than real, you know?” Leach said. “Part of that’s just the growth process that takes place, and it just takes a certain amount of time to develop. A ton of these guys were here last year. They just developed. They just improved.”
That improvement should show during the summer, too. Coaches can’t supervise players during offseason workouts, but they will construct specific drill instructions to give to each position group in addition to the 7-on-7 work and, of course, the weight room.
Leach stressed that the Cougars learned over the past year that they can work harder than they previously believed, and that’s an attitude that should find its way into their summer plans.
“I think there was definitely some days last year in 7-on-7 and lifting and running where guys came out with maybe not the right attitude of getting work done on that day, which is understandable,” said quarterback Connor Halliday. “I mean, the summer’s long, but you’ve got to be able to grind through that because we’re not a team where we can relax and just kind of rely on out-talenting people, so we’ve got to bring it every day.”
Leach thought they brought it well enough on Tuesday. Wearing helmets and shoulder pads on the final day of spring, the offense and defense each exchanged blows during an 11-on-11 team session to close the day.
A sloppy drive by the offense was met by a disgruntled speech from Leach, who paused practice so the offense could knock out 20 up-downs before continuing.
But the coach was impressed by the following drive, which Halliday led masterfully.
“We had real good work today. Thought it was pretty good. every drill was competitive, had a few hollow spots that I wasn’t a huge fan of but I thought Halliday had his best drive of spring, that last one,” Leach said. “I thought it was really good. We deliberately made sure it was long.
“There’s a thing going on nowadays where ‘(it’s just) spring and just make sure nobody gets hurt and go through the motions until the season.’ Well, that’s crazy. If we’re going to do that, let’s quit having spring. We tried to get as much work as we could, and got a lot of work done.”
Enough so that Leach was nearly effusive with his praise afterward. Things really have changed.