Two years ago, if he were asked how his first spring football session went at Washington State, Mike Leach might would have harrumphed and entertained the next question.
Thursday, when asked on a teleconference about players who had impressed him this spring, the WSU coach launched into a list of 18 people.
The whole transition to his regime, now approaching its third season, hasn’t been easy, but Leach took note of a passel of improvements this spring and named the offensive line and secondary as the two units that advanced the most. That’s good, because those are the two areas considered most questionable for 2014.
Next comes two key phases: Summer, when Leach insists vast improvement can be made, and not only in conditioning; and fall camp, when the Cougars will again repair to Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, where, says defensive coordinator Mike Breske, “It’s just us, and a yellow school bus. It really helps the mojo.”
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As for the summer, which this year features some limited NCAA-allowed supervision by coaches, Leach said, “Without question, it’s one of the most important times of the year. That’s one of the most important roles of the spring — to equip everybody with as much assignment and technique, so they can use that period of time to improve further.”
Leach said the center spot is “really, really close“ between O’Dea product Sam Flor and Riley Sorenson. He lauded the line as bigger, more athletic and deeper than last year before throwing in a one-word disclaimer: “Younger.”
Running back will be competitive, even as the Cougars don’t run much. Leach said, “If we were to play today, it would be Theron West and Jamal Morrow.” That doesn’t account for the two backs who have taken the most snaps in his first two seasons, Marcus Mason and Teondray Caldwell.
Leach wouldn’t bite on a firm backup to Connor Halliday at quarterback, saying that both touted Tyler Bruggman and walk-on Luke Falk “both need to have a great offseason.”
On defense, Leach took note of strides by young defensive linemen Daniel Ekuale, Robert Barber and Emmitt Su’a-Kalio and hybrid rusher Ivan McLennan, while Breske said of the unit, “That’s got to be our strength going into the fall.”
Linebacker, buttressed by the return of one-time four-star recruit Chester Su’a, should similarly be a veteran group. But the secondary will be a focus until the Cougars can prove it shouldn’t be. They lost All-American safety Deone Bucannon and both starting corners — this, in a league in which all but two starting quarterbacks return in 2014.
Daquawn Brown will be hard to unseat at one corner, and little-used vet Tracy Clark emerged at the other. Youngsters Marcellus Pippins and Charleston White saw their first college springs, with mixed results, at corner.
In particular, corner will be a spot where a true freshman, maybe Patrick Porter or Sulaiman Hameed, could impact.
Meanwhile, the coaches loved the play of walk-on safety Beau Glover of Gig Harbor, while another prospective safety, Isaac Dotson of Newport High, saw a lot of down time with an injury.
Leach, asked if he had any exotic trips planned this summer, mentioned only a couple of family get-togethers. His other family, the one of 110 guys, will be trying to lay the groundwork for a second straight bowl game.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org