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Stepping into new world at Washington State helped prepare Gardner Minshew for Senior Bowl experience

UPDATED: Wed., Jan. 23, 2019, 5:13 p.m.

There’s no starting job on the line for Gardner Minshew in Mobile, Alabama, but it isn’t hard for the Washington State quarterback to notice a few similarities between his week at the Senior Bowl and the lead-up to the Cougars’ 2018 football season.

In a nutshell, Minshew is taking snaps alongside quarterbacks who desire the same thing he does. Not QB1 in this instance, but a highly-coveted NFL contract that could be partially influenced by how well Minshew throws a football in front of pro scouts this week.

It should be a high-pressure moment for any NFL hopeful and next to February’s Scouting Combine, it’s easily the most crucial job interview each will have before April’s NFL Draft.

But, no surprise to anyone who watched him in crimson and gray this year, Minshew entered the week even-keeled as always.

“Man, my biggest thing is to go down there and just be myself,” the WSU QB said on the phone Saturday. “Have the energy, lead the guys, be the one that the guys want to follow. Kind of prove that I don’t just belong with these other quarterbacks, that I deserve to be the one that’s taken. It’s going to be extremely competitive and I’m fired up for it.”

Growing up roughly three hours north of Senior Bowl headquarters in Mobile, Alabama, Minshew took a liking to the college all-star game at a young age and over the last few years, he’d make a point to watch weekly practices on television to study tendencies and habits of the participating players.

Minshew, representing the South team with Washington State left tackle Andre Dillard, already went through one of those practices Tuesday at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, along with an official weigh-in and a podium interview.

Inclement weather pushed Wednesday’s Senior Bowl practice indoors, but a two-hour session taking place from 1-3 p.m. inside South Alabama’s enclosed facility will still air on ESPNU and NFL Network. Teams will practice outside once more Thursday, from 1-3 p.m., before the game takes place Saturday (11:30 a.m., NFL Network).

“It’s something I’ve never gone to, actually gone down to it, but I watch it every year,” Minshew said. “I’d always think it’d be so cool to see and even the past several years I’ve watched the practices every day trying to learn how they operate, how they do it and now to be in it, it’s awesome.”

Leading up to the Senior Bowl, Minshew had been training at XPE Sports in Boca Raton, Florida, with owner Tony Villani. He’s also working with a QB-specific trainer, former NFL player Ken Mastrole.

Minshew is one of four players who’ll split quarterback reps for the South team, along with Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson, West Virginia’s Will Grier and Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham. He’s also competing indirectly with four signal-callers who’ll suit up for the North: North Carolina State’s Ryan Finley, Duke’s Daniel Jones, Penn State’s Trace McSorley and Missouri’s Drew Lock.

In front of NFL scouts, draft analysts and reporters who’ll dissect Minshew’s every move, the WSU quarterback will have to demonstrate he can take snaps under center and run an offense that isn’t predicated on the Air Raid patterns he mastered during a 4,700-yard passing season with Mike Leach and the Cougars.

But every QB will encounter his own obstacles this week. Some may struggle to adapt to wide receivers they haven’t spent four years throwing passes to. Others will find it difficult to communicate with the constantly changing offensive line rotations that’ll be pieced together in front of them.

And Minshew? If his lone year in Pullman is any indication, the WSU QB seems to thrive in those situations.

“There’s no doubt,” Minshew said. “That experience helped me so much. Coming in, getting to know people on short notice, making good first impressions, getting to know some of these guys real fast and then finally just proving yourself to them that you deserve to be the guy.”

He added: “I think the experience of coming in and having to be kind of self-assured and confident, to walk into a completely new team that you don’t know anybody and try to earn their respect and earn their job, I think that kind of confidence also is something that kind of has developed.”

Cougar teammates raved about Minshew’s leadership and the manner in which he elevated everyone around him. The grad transfer QB had spent less than two months in Pullman when he asked captain Peyton Pelluer if he could address the group in a team meeting.

Minshew’s arm strength, accuracy and decision-making will speak for itself in Mobile, but he believes NFL scouts are also examining the intangible qualities that have nothing to do with raw athletic ability.

“That’s the biggest thing is it’s really more so, more than anything you do on the field, it’s how you carry yourself and how you work with a team, how you take control of the huddle at the line of scrimmage, how you operate,” he said. “I think that’s the things you can really see in a short time because nobody’s going to be 100 percent throwing the ball. You’ve got new receivers, different plays, you’re all kind of getting used to that but they’re really trying to see the things you can control.

“Your leadership, your work ethic, your practice habits. So that’s what I’m fired up to show them.”

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