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Trey Tinsley makes early strides in Washington State quarterback competition

PULLMAN – Trey Tinsley is aiming to replace Luke Falk, not necessarily emulate him.

If the redshirt sophomore is able to beat out four other competitors for Washington State’s starting quarterback vacancy – and probably a fifth come August – he’ll surely need to demonstrate some of the same traits that Falk mastered over a four-year span as the Cougars’ No. 1 – a comprehensive understanding of Mike Leach’s Air Raid schemes; an arm sturdy enough to withstand the physical demands of Leach’s passing assault; and a mind sharp enough to process defensive formations and make the necessary presnap adjustments.

Through five days of spring camp at WSU – a sample size too small to draw any substantial conclusions – Tinsley seems to have the best handle on those concepts of the five QBs taking repetitions, and of the three taking significant ones. Leach considers him “the most polished” quarterback on the Cougars’ roster and he’s been afforded the privilege of leading the first offensive series whenever WSU breaks into its “live” 11-on-11 period.

But because Tinsley appears most capable of replacing Falk at this early juncture does not mean he’s the most accurate comparison to the former WSU star. More of a polar opposite actually.

If Falk is a ‘4’ on the bravado scale, Tinsley’s a ‘9.’

“I’ll just look at a guy, throw some balls at the defense, just talk a little smack to make sure the blood’s flowing,” Tinsley said after Saturday’s practice at Martin Stadium. “Just make sure guys are loose and playing their best game. … That’s just fun, have a good time, try to get guys smiling and just play ball.”

For all the labels Falk accrued in his four year as the Cougars’ QB, “savvy trash talker” was certainly not one of them.

So Tinsley’s flair and pizzazz probably didn’t come from his two years of shadowing the signal-caller who set every Pac-12 passing record ablaze. Perhaps, though, he gets it from another former walk-on who starred at the Power Five level.

“I like Baker Mayfield a lot,” Tinsley said, referencing the Oklahoma QB who became close friends with Falk as the two attended three separate Burlsworth Trophy ceremonies together and practiced alongside one another at the Reese’s Senior Bowl. “He’s a fiery guy, but I know that he gets as much out of his teammates as he possibly can. So I guess a little bit from him.”

Three WSU quarterbacks have been given a chance to run the offense during the 11-on-11 periods: Tinsley, redshirt junior Anthony Gordon and true freshman/early enrollee Cammon Cooper. Tinsley was the most productive and efficient signal-caller on Saturday, throwing touchdown passes to Renard Bell, Travell Harris, Tay Martin and Jamire Calvin, and Leach says he’s shown the best grasp of the playbook.

“I think Trey’s real polished, real coachable,” Leach said. “You tell him once, he improves on something.”

“(Gordon) does a good job of seeing the whole field and the ball comes off his hand really quickly,” Leach said.

“Sometimes he can be spotty on his reads, but he can see a guy unattended and put the ball on him real quick.”

Cooper, a 6-4 southpaw who came to the Cougars from Lehi, Utah, has good mobility for his size, Leach said.

“And (he) can throw just a really sharp rope of the ball,” Leach added, “I think he learns really quickly, too, because he’s only been here for a few months and he’s picked up an awful lot in that period of time.”

Cooper threaded a tight spiral between two defensive backs and hit Bell in the numbers for one of his touchdowns on Saturday. He also lofted an impressive sideline throw to Easop Winston Jr., who made a basket catch and tapped his toe in bounds before hitting the turf.

The QB competition in Pullman is still a five-man race, but East Carolina transfer Gardner Minshew will join the party in August when the team reconvenes for fall camp, so it’s unlikely Leach and his staff will name a starter before the summer break.

Claeys throws a change-up

First-year defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys is streamlining the play-calling process this season.

Under former DC Alex Grinch, WSU’s defensive players wore wristbands scripted with play calls that would correlate with the same calls players would hear from coaches on the sideline.

Claeys decided to make a change when he arrived at WSU in January. The play calls would only come from one source: the coaches.

“I feel like without the wristbands, you’re just getting one signal,” defensive lineman Nick Begg said. “Because with the wristbands, you’re getting a signal, you’re looking here and then you’re listening for your (linebackers). But with this, now you’re just getting your own signal from the sideline, you’re just going. I feel like it’s easier.

“It takes out half the time, so you can just get ready and get lined up.”