Mike Leach: Every position will be a battle for Cougars

THE SEATTLE TIMESAugust 2, 2013 

Mike Leach was plodding through his initial teleconference of the 2013 football season when an innocent question lit him up. He was asked about the most competitive position battles as his Washington State football team starts practice Friday in Lewiston.

"Every one of 'em," he shot back. "Every one is battling to be starters, that's just a fact. Even within that, you're battling to see how many reps you get.

"I get asked that some, and it's kind of a befuddling question to me."

Leach referred sarcastically to a misguided belief of 2012 in some quarters that based "on this whole wealth of success of the past, that positions are sewed up, that it's not going to be competitive, because we wouldn't want to hurt this guy's feelings by benching his (butt).

"It's not the philosophy we (coaches) share."

Ergo, whatever are the most heated position battles, you won't hear Leach discussing them much.

The Cougars will likely be in Lewiston for 10 days, working on a junior high school field and staying at Lewis-Clark State because of construction on a football-operations building next to their practice fields. When asked if the Lewiston site would provide a "comfort zone" for players, Leach said, "Comfort zone is not exactly the priority around here. I think it's a good place, we'll get good work. The overall reaction is, most guys seem kind of excited about it."

Among priorities for WSU as it points to an Aug. 31 opener at Auburn: Solidifying the quarterback pecking order; continuing to develop an offensive line that has struggled badly for several years; and upgrading at the cornerback spot, where the Cougars have been mediocre for a long time.

Junior Connor Halliday leads redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca at quarterback, and Leach credited both with strong springs. As for the size of that lead, Leach said, "We're about to find out."

Halliday had a 494-yard passing night as a redshirt freshman, but floundered during an in-and-out season alongside Jeff Tuel a year ago, throwing for 15 touchdowns with 13 interceptions and completing only 52.1 percent. Leach says Apodaca, a Colorado product, is accurate and a good runner, but "he's still kind of working toward where everything is quick and automatic."

The offensive line at least has more candidates after a season when the depth-shy Cougars made do with few reserves. Now they add tackle Rico Forbes, who sat out last year with a knee injury; JC transfer tackle Jacob Seydel and redshirt freshman Eduardo Middleton, plus some young prospects.

Cornerback should also be more competitive, and it's a spot where WSU must be more productive. Last year, the Cougars were No. 6 in run defense in the Pac-12, but No. 10 in pass defense, allowing 263 yards a game.

"I think we're significantly better, especially the attitude, and our work ethic is significantly higher," Leach said. He hopes to see a continuation of the work in the spring, when "as a team we played together, rather than a lot of individuals that were so quick to let any level of discouragement fracture the effort. And some guys began to emerge as leaders."

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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