PULLMAN – For someone who’ll spend August trying to separate himself from others and distinguish himself in as many ways as possible, Gardner Minshew isn’t off to a bad start.
The graduate transfer quarterback from East Carolina reported to his first practice at Washington State Friday afternoon, and it was unlikely he’d get through a full interview without being probed about the bushy, brown mustache he wore to day No. 1 of Cougars camp at Martin Stadium.
“Are you keeping the ’stache?” Minshew was finally asked after getting a slew of football questions.
In a thick Southern drawl, the QB responded, “We’ll see, if camp goes well – I’ve been getting a lot of compliments on it. And I can see how ya’ll have been looking at it.”
Minshew’s image might endear him to WSU fans, but it won’t get him far in the Cougars’ quarterback competition. Cougars coach Mike Leach is choosing Luke Falk’s successor – and his fourth starting quarterback in seven years at WSU – based on a simple set of criteria.
“Who moves the offense the best,” said Leach, who stated Thursday on a conference call that he hopes to have his starter named at least 10 days before the season opener at Wyoming. “That’s the single most important skill. Make good decisions and accurate. That’s where it starts. If they can’t do those three, they can’t play.”
Fortunately, Minshew’s performance was just as noteworthy as his appearance Friday. One of four quarterbacks in the running to replace Falk, the Pac-12’s all-time leading passer, Minshew was awarded the first series of WSU’s team period near the end of practice and completed better than 70 percent of his throws while leading the offense into the end zone.
He capped the drive with a touchdown pass to Kyle Sweet before letting out a loud howl and pumping his fist aggressively.
“When you score, you’re supposed to be excited,” Minshew said. “It’s fun. Football’s fun. That’s why I try to bring some juice and leadership to the practice.”
Minshew is the most experienced quarterback on the Cougars’ roster, in that he’s the only one who’s taken a snap at the FBS level. But he comes into the fall having missed spring camp – a period of time that was essential for the development of his challengers: redshirt juniors Trey Tinsley and Anthony Gordon, and true freshman Cammon Cooper.
Minshew doesn’t sense that he’s at a disadvantage, though.
“They really helped me a lot coming into the summer,” Minshew said. “I got a lot of work with the guys and it’s a credit to the quarterbacks that were already here, really getting me up to speed. The receivers helped, and then we have a great coaching staff that really has me pretty ready, I feel like.”
It may not necessarily be indicative of who has a leg up in the QB race, but Minshew and Tinsley were the only signal-callers who got looks during the 11-on-11 period. Those two also led the 1-on-1/wide receiver vs. defensive back drills, while Gordon and Cooper spent time working with the running backs on the other end of the field.
Leach, who hopes to narrow the race down to two contenders “as quickly as we can,” said he plans to rep Gordon and Cooper in the coming days.
“We’ll check some guys out, we’ll look at some stuff,” Leach said. “It’s not going to be an extended deal, but we’ll take a look and see where everyone’s at.”
Minshew drew a positive review from his head coach after one day of practice.
“I do think he plays with a lot of energy,” Leach said, “and I do think it rubbed off on the O-line, things like that.”
WSU nickel Hunter Dale, who lives with Minshew and offensive lineman Andre Dillard, echoed Leach’s thoughts.
“I think he’s doing great, especially from the summer when we did 7-on-7,” Dale said. “He wasn’t taking a back seat to anybody. He was taking authority. He’s a great leader, too.”
The Cougars move their preseason camp to Lewiston’s Sacajawea Junior High for the next six days before returning to Pullman on Friday.
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