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Saturday, January 18, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Morning links: Practice and podcasts

Wednesday's practice did not end until 11 p.m., so it didn't seem sensible to put up a midnight post that nobody would see. Instead, we'll briefly recap the practice in this space. Also, KJR's Jason Puckett and Ian Furness broadcasted from Pullman yesterday so they could be in town for a ceremony honoring late president Elson Floyd. You can listen to the podcasts from his show (Bill Moos and Mike Leach), and we've passed along some highlights below.

Here are some highlights from WSU's late-night practice:

-- Charleston White had his side of the field locked down in work against the scout team, collecting a pair of interceptions.

-- Opposite White, it appears that Darrien Molton may be the starter at right cornerback. The true freshman has been practicing with the ones ahead of Marcellus Pippins for a few practices now.

-- Also, I think Alex Grinch is moving toward having Isaac Dotson start at nickelback with Shalom Luani and Taylor Taliulu at safety. We're seeing more of that look, as opposed to having Dotson start in front of Luani with Darius Lemora at nickel.

-- True freshman offensive lineman Drew Norvell was impressive during one-on-one's, stonewalling explosive defensive tackle Ngalu Tapa. Frankie Luvu got the best of Sam Flor in the drill, using a swim move to blow past the offensive lineman and "sack" the quarterback.

-- Luke Falk ran with the first team offense and looked sharp, throwing a nice 30-yard touchdown strike to Tyler Baker.

-- The limited players today were C.J. Dimry, Tyler Baker, Logan Tago, Suli Hameed, Matt Abramo and Cole Madison. With Madison out, Jacob Seydel was the starting left tackle.

Now, let's recap Furness and Puckett's show. First up was Bill Moos:

-- Bill Moos had a touching answer when asked what Elson Floyd meant to him. "He's already missed. I've got to say that, in my many years in my profession and around this state and the northwest, I don't know if I've ever known anyone with as much passion, a beautiful vision, very articulate and mostly, what impressed me, don't say you can't do something to Elson Floyd." Moos called Floyd, "The students' president."

-- There was a funny moment when Moos described the "escape hatch" in his suite that leads to a crow's nest away from all the dignitaries and boosters he hosts.

-- Moos said that he fully expects the Cougars to play in Martin Stadium on September 5. He says that he took select people on the staff to "explore contingencies" such as move the game or rescheduling the game, most likely after the Apple Cup. He said playing the game in the Kibbie Dome would be "challenging" because of its low seating capacity, although members of his staff have talked to the folks at Idaho who would "take very good care" of WSU if that was the option.

-- Moos was asked about his expectations for the season. He replied, "This is by far, I think, the best team we've had it's the most talented team we've had and we have the luxury of some depth in most positions. When Mike Leach came here in 2012, we had six offensive linemen on scholarship, maybe three of them shouldn't have been. I'm telling it like it is. Now we have 21 on scholarship, they're all the 6-foot-6, 320-pound, heavily recruited guys. That's kind of an indicator there of how we've done this the right way. We've talked about no quick fixes. I really like the leadership we have on both sides of the ball. I  talked to all of our student-athletes last night, where are the leaders today in sports, everywhere. I really like our new coaches, I heard you guys talking about Alex Grinch and Roy Manning. (They) have really brought energy and excitement to the defense. Graham Harrell, who has been connected at the hip with Mike Leach for a long time, actually in the box. I think they're going to be the communicators on paly calling. And then you've got Eric Mele, who's a tremendous special teams coach. All four of those guys are good recruiters, too. (Furness: And a guy like Graham knows the NFL.) Oh, when you throw that (Super Bowl) ring on, it doesn't hurt on a recruiting weekend. And it's good chemistry. I just think all those things together with a proven quarterback, you know you never want to see anybody get hurt, but Luke Falk, the first game he played he was the Pac-12 Player of the Week on offense. He has control of it. His sisters can really sing."

-- Moos was asked about balancing the desire for immediate wins with giving a coach enough time to build a program. His response: "We've got a big name coach. We've got a national coach of the year who took over a situation where we had to build it. Academically, in our behavior, nutrition, I'm going on, facilities and all of that, to get to this point in year four where I think we have a legitimate chance with anybody we paly to have a chance to win. A lot of that comes from attrition. It's different playing for a coach who you know was in your parents' living room with you in the recruiting process, because you're bought in when you get here. And I very much believe that the holdovers who are now seniors are very much bought in. We've got good leadership, what we really need is to take advantage of our schedule this year, get out of the chute and get some momentum, which we did not do last year, and part of that was the product of the schedule and others where I don't think we were mature enough to get back on track. So, I'm excited about it. You look at the league, it's tough. I was talking to somebody the other day, I said, 'You look at the five newest coaches to come into this league were coaches at Texas Tech, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pittsburgh and the Atlanta Falcons. To complement the ones that were already here.' It's tough every Saturday but I feel very good about how the schedule lays out, the chemistry of the coaching staff, the leadership of our team, the depth of our team, our fans I think are excited and this would be a great year to get seven or eight (wins) and get ourselves into a nice bowl game and just continue to build off of that."

Then, Mike Leach joined the show:

-- Mike Leach began the segment with a pretty interesting discussion of music and how the market "overcorrects" swinging from music like disco to punk before settling on a happy medium. The host used the opportunity to segue into a discussion about the starting quarterback, mentioning that KJR plays music by Luke Falk's sisters on Friday, so it would be great if he was the starter.

Leach said, "They do a heck of a job and actually I have heard this as people come around the building playing it." Leach was asked how the quarterback handles the attention paid to his sisters and replied, "You know what, he kind of just waits it out. Falk's kind of a shy person and he's all business, very focused, he just waits it out."

Leach said that Tyler Hilinski, an economics major, is "maybe the smartest guy on the team."

Puckett pressed Leach on whether Falk or Peyton Bender would start behind center in week one. Leach replied, "I think they both do really good, it's been ridiculously competitive. Falk lately has been getting more reps. Bender does a tremendous job, you know Bender as far as a true freshman, redshirt freshman, has picked things up quicker than anybody I've dealt with. It comes off his hand very quickly. The other thing is, Bender's got a calmness to him. But I think Falk, just with experience film study and all that, for week one, probably puts our best foot forward.

-- Leach was then asked what he looks for when evaluating quarterbacks. HE replied, "I've always thought it's very simple but despite that it seems like everybody disagrees with me on this subject. Well, I think the most important thing is, one, does he make good decisions? Can he figure out who to throw the ball to or who to hand the ball to? The second thing, is he accurate? Once he's made the decision, can he execute it in a good enough fashion to get them the ball? I think that's where you start. I think if they're not accurate and don't make good decisions, I think you're out until they do. After that you look for the other things. Does he have quick feet – quick feet's different than fast – does he have quick feet? Does he have a strong arm? Is he fast? Well, I can't think of one quarterback in the NFL or Hall of Fame that has all five of those qualities. But most of them have about three of them, you know. Elevate the play of the team, that's the ultimate that you look for."

-- The hosts took a break from football to ask Leach about what he will remember of Floyd. Leach said, "I thought he was fantastic, probably the finest college administrator in the country and I think that'd be extremely hard to argue with. He had the classic view of what a university's role of, which goes back to the ancient Greeks, that there should be a balance, that you should excel in all things, not just some things. And I think a lot of universities have lost that as universities get spliced up in petty jealousies and Elson Floyd aggressively avoided those and cleared the path on those types of things. He wanted to be the have the best business department, got the medical school, him and others got the medical school here, and then of course athletics is a part of it. And athletics is a big part of it. And it's like, I think sometimes people get tangled in the money argument on athletics. Well it makes this so it should have, well here's the thing. I don't know how much – and I minored in English – I don't know how much the English department made last year. And it doesn't matter if it lost a lot of money because the mission of a university is to build and broaden people's horizons, people's lives and to elevate our society and make it strong, proud, great and those things. And so it really doesn't matter because the role of a university is to have a lot of dimension and offer a lot of things to an incredible number of people and all the academic aspects are like that, just like a medical school , just like athletics is, too. He had a really clear vision of that and to eliminate a lot of the bureaucracy that goes on and get those things done. He was a great leader and had a presence to him, too. He was one of those guys who would walk into a room and you'd feel him before you saw him. You'd feel, he would have made a horrible secret agent. Because if he was spying on you, you'd know it. You feel like something has changed, something to the positive has changed in the room, you'd turn around and there would be Dr. Floyd. He had that kind of unique quality and I think that was felt by everybody here. I think his vision and just his commitment to it was really impressive. And then I had the opportunity to talk to him a number of times and, everybody has their journey to get to where they're at and his was ridiculously impressive.

--  "Here it is, yeah for sure.  Phsyically w'eve got guys back. We're still really young you know beause we pressed a bunch of freshmen into service last year but they're back and going strong. And I think a lot of it is, our offseason was so good. Because I think younger guys felt empowered to take control of this team and they came here with a vision and also a work ethic that elevated our offseason and that really brought a lot of people together. You'd walk in there and there was just a lot of energy in there. It wasn't just loud, it's easy to be loud. Yeah, it was loud, but you'd walk in there and just competitive and people pushing each other. Just very competitive and you'd look around the room and there wasn't anybody lagging behind. If they had they'd stand out ridiculously. It'd be almost an obvious embarrassment just because of the mentality of the group and tha'ts the most important thing ,what the group's able to do together and I think our practices have reflected that, too. But when you think about it, we've got all our running backs back, plus Keith Harrington, who's pushing both, could beat them out, I don't know but he's certainly pushing both of them. We've got all our offensive line back, and we're a little deeper. (That's the biggest difference, right?) Oh, no question. We had six on scholarship; three that could play and we averaged 260 (pounds)[I think Leach's math is a little off here, but whatever]. And it wasn't 260 because this guy's incredibly tough, no it wasn't like that. It was like this guy's 260 and he's the best one I've got. Now we average 310 and we've got 18 of them on scholarship, and I'm not saying we didn't screw up on one or two, but 18 to pick from, plus walk-ons. Plus the receivers, who are young as well, more of a mixed bag back there but we've got some tall guys, some short guys, some fast guys but they seem to be coming together really well.

-- Leach was asked about going under center, a new wrinkle the Cougars have added to their offense. "The thing I like about under center is it's a great position to be in to hand the ball off, but it's also a great position to be in to throw vertically. Because you get your hands on that ball and you can throw it up real quick, and those two things contrast very dramatically. The under center stuff, it's fine, basically it matched a couple plays we wanted to do and we figured rather than make it too obvious there's certainly other things it would fit to do and certainly things that would be better off it, because you can throw screens better off it. So we just decided to kind of broaden that out and have the best of both worlds on it and hope they can remember to do it, and so far they have. Of course the media, you know even the slightest of change, they're both excited and alarmed. It'll be fun and if those cats forget they'll probably forget and go shotgun, I don't think they'll forget and go under center."

-- Finally, Leach was asked why the defense will be better this year. He mentioned getting players back, but mostly he spoke about new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. "When you watch Alex Grinch coach a drill, if they don't play well it hurts him more than it hurts the players. He's fully invested and as a result there's an accountability that rubs off on them."

Phew! Still with us? Here are some links as a reward:

-- Our position previews continue with the WSU running backs.

-- We held a WSU chat on the blog yesterday. Here is the transcript.
 

-- I can confirm this report by Britton Ransford about Zaire Andre transferring:

-- Jim Allen wrote about the WSU women's soccer team's coaching conga line

-- Stef Loh of the Seattle Times wrote stories about Alex Grinch and Luke Falk.




Jacob Thorpe
Jacob Thorpe joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He currently is a reporter for the Sports Desk covering Washington State University athletics.

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