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Washington State quarterbacks in charge this offseason

PULLMAN – The last gasp of organized football for the academic year is done, and soon the fans who’ve paid attention this long will let their focuses drift to annual vacations and summertime hobbies.

Peyton Bender won’t have any more six-touchdown scrimmages and Luke Falk isn’t going to scramble for another touchdown until Washington State’s fall camp in August.

Still, the WSU quarterback competition will continue to simmer throughout the summer. Besides the usual lifting and conditioning, the Cougars will have informal seven-on-seven passing sessions and the wide receivers will challenge defensive backs in one-on-one competitions. Most players will only head home for a week or so, total.

“It’s a village of leaders and we’ve just got to take over,” Falk said after the Cougars broke spring camp for the last time on Tuesday. “No coaches are here and it will really be on us to work. This is where the locker room comes together and the leadership comes together and the team gets really tight.”

The coaches won’t be around for this summer football. They’ll be on the road, recruiting, and the Cougars plan to stage several of the satellite recruiting camps in California that have drawn some controversy, but rarely from coaches.

How Bender and Falk perform in these unsupervised drills is likely to have no impact on who will eventually start the season-opener against Portland State – certainly nothing they do in the drills will trump what happens during the fall practices. But the leadership they show in organizing and conducting these workouts will factor heavily into Mike Leach’s decision about who to start.

“It always does, it’s huge,” Leach said.

While Leach said the team has many leaders now, because more players have signed on with the program, the members of his first full recruiting class at WSU will be seniors next year.

But a team’s quarterback is its player-manager by default because, naturally, shouldn’t the only guy allowed to talk in the huddle and change plays carry a little more responsibility?

The Cougars are placing a lot of importance on these summer workouts as they try to improve upon last season’s 3-9 record. Leach said they made headway this spring, particularly on defense.

“I think the most important thing defenses do is tackle, and we improved tremendously at that,” Leach said. “And then the other thing, I thought collectively they all played a lot faster. I think those are the biggest improvements you always want and those are the ones we got.”

Of course, those sentiments echo Leach’s comments last spring, so maybe it’s the summer work that will make the difference.

Defense is where the Cougars can improve the most, the quickest, and the spring was spent installing new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch’s preferred defense: a base 3-4 nickel with a Rush linebacker at the line of scrimmage.

Grinch said his players have made some improvements but also bluntly describes a group that has a long way to go before it can routinely stop Pac-12 offenses. If the WSU defense looks today like it will look at the start of fall camp, it could be another year of long opposing third-down conversions and even longer touchdowns.

“The big thing though, any way you slice it, we need to come back that first day of fall camp and be better than we were today,” Grinch said. “That’s a lot on the guys, obviously, over the course of the summer. What we can’t do is say we got better in the spring and we’ll be better at the end of fall camp.”

To that end, he wants his secondary to spend this summer working on technique, especially footwork. Some of the stuff they can do “on air,” but much of it will require a receiver to cover and quarterbacks to get them the ball.

That will require plenty of team workouts and some quarterbacks with the leadership to arrange them.

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