On the eve of Washington State’s first fall practice – Friday at 2 p.m. in Pullman – eighth-year Cougars coach Mike Leach broached a number of topics with reporters in a conference call.
Here’s a transcript of everything Leach told the media Thursday afternoon.
Question: You guys don’t pay attention to polls, but this is the first year since 2004 the Cougars have been ranked in the preseason Coaches Poll. Does that signify the growth of the program?
Leach: “I think it contributes to it. I suppose it contributes to it. I hadn’t, like you say, I hadn’t paid a great deal of attention but that’s good. We’re pleased about it, I suppose.”
Q: Will you guys divvy up the quarterback reps similar to the way you did last year?
Leach: “We’ll do very similar to last year, yes. Pretty much like last year.”
Q: In the past, you’ve voiced your support for the two-day acclimation period that begins every preseason camp. Based on the fact guys train year-round, is that still your position or do you think
Leach: “Well on one hand, I’m opposed to additional, unnecessary legislation and I guess I feel like that is. Because there’s a point, nobody’s with these guys more than coaches and no coach wants to do anything to diminish his resources or diminish the strength of their team. So naturally and even selfishly, they’re going to do what’s in the best interest of their players and their team. And I think there’s a point to where people sit in offices and desks and get bored and once they’re done playing golf at one of these gathering committee things where people legislate stuff, then they decide to tweak something so that somehow the guilt of what they ate at the banquet or the fact they got free golf, free hotel and free pool, that they did something. Well I wish they would just enjoy their vacation and not tweak with all these rules and add all these doodads that are unnecessary, in lot of cases on subjects they know less about than the subjects they legislate. But despite that, we would ease into our workouts for a couple reasons: one, I don’t think the acclimation is a bad thing and two, you start out teaching the drills, teaching whatever you’re installing and have a day or to do that. That’s kind of the pace I’d be inclined to do it, so I’m really not complaining about it but I’m kind of with you from the standpoint that a bunch of excessive legislation needs to be discouraged.”
Q: At one point late last season, Gardner Minshew expressed the philosophy that a preseason quarterback battle, it kind of comes down to the team making a choice as to who it wants. A coach kind of reads that. Is that kind of how you view things?
Leach: “Eh, a little bit. I don’t think that’s the whole picture, I think that’s part of it. I think Gardner, by describing it that way – and I did think it was quite impressive by describing it that way has always been very flattered and honored by the way the team accepted and embraced him, which they did. But with that said, he earned a significant portion of that. But I also think the team is going to accept and play for whoever they think is doing a good job. Last year I felt like we had three guys like that, but I did feel like Gardner really did a good job of leading the unit and then continued to and continued to get better I thought as the season went on.”
Q: This year, would you like to get it down to two guys quicker than you did last year?
Leach: “Well I want to have as many good quarterbacks as I possibly can. I’d like to have it down to, from a practical standpoint I’d love to have it down to a starter and a backup today. But by the same token, the competition’s going to make everybody better.”
Q: Your running backs room is relatively unproven, but how do you expect Deon McIntosh to contribute to the rotation?
Leach: “We’ll see what he can do, We really don’t know yet and we felt like Markoff and Dubots both had good springs, so that’ll contribute to that. Then Jouvensly (Bazile), we’ll see what he can do also.”
Q: Will you guys be searching for a new vocal leader of the defense during camp with Peyton Pelluer graduated and Jalen Thompson in the NFL?
Leach: “Well Jalen wasn’t really that vocal. You always look for leadership, you just want guys to elevate their level of play and I think as guys do elevate their level of play, some of it takes care of itself. Whether the leadership is by example or just guys that they naturally follow. But we definitely want guys to elevate and play well, and I think we made strides in that direction in spring.”
Q: Do you have any idea who could step up as the leader of the defense?
Leach: “You know what, I don’t have specific targets either. Ideally, everybody’s a leader of themself and in doing so, they’re trying to push themself ot be the best they possibly can be. But I don’t think we need some fearless leader, per se, but that’s part of what coaches are for. So I think Jahad (Woods) has done a good job as far as by his play and position and had that sort of impact last year, too.”
Q: Gardner told us last year he knew for about two weeks he’d be your starter. Is it ideal for a team to spend at least two weeks with a starting QB before the opener?
Leach: “I think definitely. I think you’ve got to zero the reps in. I think you’ve got to zero the reps in and then of course when you get a game plan, start to mull that around everybody.”
Q: What do you think about the new NCAA rule eliminating blindside hits?
Leach: “I’m not a big fan, because there’s a point where a receiver – you don’t know where a ball-carrier’s going to go and then you’re downfield and then a guy immediately changes direction, a defender immediately changes direction. Then if he reacts, in order to block it and with our head in front in stuff and not blocking a guy from behind, I’ve always felt like that pretty well covers it and so I think we’re kind of beating a dead horse on it. Then also I’m not terribly excited about guys going out there and referees trying to somehow limit someone’s blindside. I think our rules in place were already plenty satisfactory.”
Q: How do you assess Skyler Thomas’ strengths and what role would you like to see him play ideally this year?
Leach: “I just want to see him keep getting better at what he’s doing. He’s been a very dynamic player. I think he led the team in tackles last year, I’m not sure, but he was right up there. Then I think Skyler’s very passionate about how he plays and loves to play and I think we want to maintain that. The other thing is, if you have to blitz Skyler, one of his hidden knacks you wouldn’t necessarily think of right away is rushing the quarterback, and he does a good job of that.”
Q: Is it fair to say you’ll look at him at a number of positions throughout camp?
Leach: “Yeah, but I think he’s very effective at nickel, so I’m not sure he’s going to move from there.”
Q: Do you have any idea how Gage’s comprehension of the offense has gone this offseason?
Leach: “Everybody says all those quarterbacks have worked good and looked sharp, so we’ll see when we get started.”