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Mike Leach previews WSU football’s first practice

Here's what Mike Leach had to say in advance of Washington State's first football practice of 2016.

(What are these last few days or hours before camp begins like as a coach?)

Trying to perfectly anticipate all the stuff you’re forgetting. What you’re trying to do is make moving parts run together perfectly without any friction at all. There’s always going to be a hitch, and you’re never going to plan perfectly, but you try. And I’ll be honest with you, some of that over-planning can be a waste of time. Because in the end, you want to have the best framework and stuff that you can, but there’s a whole bunch of coaches – us included, hopefully to a lesser degree than the others – wringing their hands and pulling their hair out trying to be perfect. OK, we’ve counted for and we’ve thought of everything and then, not many but a couple things will be screwed up on. And so you plan better and then you just quietly adjust as you go and that’s the best chance you possibly can, you know. And is this the perfect logistics, is this the perfect meal plan, is this the perfect way to get from the dorm to here. All that stuff, you know. And then you actually get there and you actually do it and you figure out lunch needs to be 15 minutes later. Well, big deal. Have a great camp. You know what I mean. And we’re going through all that. I give my opening speech today and it will be eerily similar to the one I give every year. All the plays on everybody’s information sheet and that type of thing. So we’re trying to anticipate the anticipate-able, and I think we’ll do a very good job but we’ll discover tomorrow and the next day it wasn’t perfect and then we go into improvisations.

(With so many moving parts what are some things you’re most anxious about?)

Well the biggest thing, the most important objective tomorrow is to get there, get in the dorms, get on the practice field and have a great practice with as little distraction as possible. It’s about as simple as that, practice-wise. Not just one player, one practice, but collectively we’ll start out at a very high level, as high a level as you can and you elevate from there.

(How do you see the WR corps adjusting to Kyrin Priester’s departure?)

I don’t think there will be a lot. We’ve got a lot of guys  back, we’ve got to break in some new guys over there but he was kind of, the biggest thing is we’ve got pretty good bodies and whatnot so we’ve just got to figure out the best place to put them. The other thing is, everybody who was involved with our offseason really embraced how hard we’ve been working and that type of thing.

(How do you feel about the offseason bonding?)

I think it was better. You know, the same, but I think well, first of all, I think (Luke Falk) does a better job just through experience and the steadiness of experiences. And then the other thing is he gets a lot of support with the guys around him, which he always has, but just more assertive. I think some of that happened because we were so young last year, and people have been able to expand on that.

(How would you like to see Luke Falk grow as a QB this year?)

Well, the best thing about him – and I always try to get these kind of guys – everybody can get better and everybody’s got to improve, but I try to get guys who don’t have any glaring weaknesses. I don’t think he has glaring weaknesses, so he just needs to get incrementally better overall.

(How about the running backs? Do you have a plan at this point?)

It’s dependent on camp. Those guys are going to have to fight, and claw and scratch to get to the top because we don’t have enough reps for four running backs. And they’re all great athletes and great players. You know, they’re going to have to fight it out … and we need to see if we can’t carve out roles, whether it’s more expanded roles on special teams or maybe even potentially a receiver role, but we’ll just have to see how it unfolds.

(Have you ever had as deep or talented a running back group going into camp?)

No. No I haven’t. This is the best group of running backs I’ve ever had. The other thing is encouraging, they’re pretty young, too.

(How do you plan to split up reps among the quarterbacks?)

Well, I think we’ll probably split them in thirds. Starting out, it’s going to be half Falk, half (Tyler) Hilinski. Hilinski had a really good spring and got better as spring went on. There were three to talk about in spring, but I thought he had a really, really good spring. He doesn’t get sacked very much, throws the ball down field, has good feet in the pocket. He’s a pretty smart guy and gets in the huddle and energizes the whole thing. So, we’re going to split those guys evenly to start out and the young guys we’re going to, especially post-practice, get some work with them and see where they’re at and elevate them as best we can.

(Have you left the door open for Peyton Bender to return to the program?)

Well, we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Part of it is he wants to get on the field and I think he wants to get on the field and play, and a portion of that has to do with how well Hilinski played in the spring, too.

(How do Hilinski and Bender compare in terms of skill set?)

Hilinksi’s got the best feet on the team. Hilinski does a lot in terms of bringing energy and excitement, probably better at that. Hilinski’s got the best feet of the quarterbacks—if he’s got the best feet on the team we’re in trouble. He’s got the best feet of the quarterbacks. Really generates a lot of excitement in the huddle. Accurate, there are guys who have stronger arms, but he doesn’t have a weak arm. And just really smart as far as picking things up and, you know, constantly learning more.

(Do you have to test guys out to see who forms the depth at linebacker after Chandler Leniu left?)

Yeah, that’s the biggest thing. We have first-level guys at linebacker we feel pretty good about. Really, there were several guys I thought who, while we were working through stuff to create depth behind (Peyton) Pelluer (unintelligible).

(Can you talk about your confidence or concerns on the offensive line?)

I think we’ve got a good group. There’s always a worry about depth and then we’ve got filling in for the two guys that graduated, we’ve got a guy who played a bit in Dillard, and then a guy who has not played a lot in Cody O’Connell, but he really had a good spring and offseason.

(It seems like the team is really publicizing the offseason conditioning on social media. Do you think that makes it more fun for the players?)

 There’s always been a little of that and (Jason Loscalzo) is probably about as good at social media as I am. The biggest thing I think is guys started with a lot of energy. They go in there and over the years and different periods of the year, each time they’ve gone in there, it’s just kind of elevated. There’s more energy in there, there’s more excitement, more competition, there’s more guys who make sure everybody knows they can lift more than they can, or they can run faster. And I think the other thing that’s happened, some of these guys came in, these new guys and were just kind of finding out what it’s like to be like on the team, well now they’ve established themselves and that core group gets kind of where their energy, their vision is such to take over the team, which is one that’s cultivated by our coaches and Loscalzo, because he’s been around there longer. And then I think it just it’s sort of standard operation procedure to get more intense, and I think it does get more intense, and along with that excitement is some social media or video of this guy doing this drill or something. That’s a long way of saying I think the excitement comes first. I think the excitement accelerated, then the interest grew and that type of thing. So some of it has just happened naturally. But we do have a really excited, motivated group now. It’s fun to watch and fun to be a part of.

(It seems like Jamal Morrow is someone who has brought a lot of energy to the team.)

I think he always has. I think he always has but then I think he’s converted some guys. I think other guys are now falling in line. … It’s always been kind of contagious so his excitement we want out front there as much as we can.

(Have you documented how many times he’s won the coin toss?)

He’s won quite a bit. I don’t know the number, but he’s pretty impressive at it.

(How does this year compare with other years heading into camp?)

It’s up there, as far as enthusiasm it’s way up there. As far experience, we’re making strides that direction. But the biggest thing is overall excitement for the season. With that you generate motivation to improve and the focus is specifically to do that and off it goes. Also I think we’ll start camp on a very high note. I think that we will continue to improve from there and hopefully, and definitely a lot of guys who we’re not familiar with will exceed expectations.

(Did any guys stand out in the offseason?)

We had quite a few, kind of an awful lot. Almost too many to mention. I thought the quarterbacks did. I thought Robert Lewis, John Thompson, River Cracraft did. I thought Gabe Marks, Gabe Marks, I didn’t think I’d say this – there was a time I definitely didn’t think I’d say this – but Gabe Marks might be, if not the hardest workers on the team, one of the hardest workers. He went from a guy you felt like (unintelligible) every time you looked at him to literally, might be the hardest-working player I’ve ever coached. So that raises the bar for the young guys who don’t know how to work and then the running backs, Wicks and Morrow, worked really hard. Peyton Pelluer does for sure. Robert Barber does. Frankie Luvu. Shalom and Molton are two others who are just extremely hard workers. Gabe Marks, Molton and Parker Henry, I would say those would be three very elite as far as outright working hard.



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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