Leach’s hiring puts Washington State in spotlight

For the first time in a long time, people are going to pay attention to Washington State’s spring practice.

That’s because the downtrodden Cougars have hired Mike Leach as coach, and where Leach goes, a high-powered offense, not to mention good quotes, are sure to follow.

Leach takes over a program that saw its talent level gradually increase under predecessor Paul Wolff. The Cougars started 3-1 last season, leading to talk that a bowl bid could be in the offing. But they won just once more the rest of the way, and the slight improvement over 2010’s 2-10 record wasn’t enough for Wulff to keep his job.

Mike Leach’s arrival has brought new energy to the Cougars.
Washington State at-a-glance
Coach: Mike Leach (1st season)
Last season: 4-8 overall, 2-7 in Pac-12
Spring practice dates: March 22-April 21
Returning starters (minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (5): G John Fullington, C Matt Goetz, T Dan Spitz, WR Marquess Wilson, RB Carl Winston
Defense (6): SS Deone Bucannon, CB Damante Horton, T Anthony Laurenzi, E Travis Long, CB Daniel Simmons, FS Tyree Toomer
Special teams (1): K Andrew Furney

Leach has the makings of a solid offense. The Cougars were ninth in the nation in passing last season despite having to use three different starting quarterbacks because of injuries. Two of those, Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday, return, and they have a big-time weapon on the outside in Marquess Wilson, who has 137 receptions for 2,394 yards and 18 TDs in his first two seasons. Finding some complementary receivers will be important this spring, as the Cougars lost their No. 2 and 3 receivers from last season.

Washington State returns its top two rushers and three starters along the line.

There is ample room for defensive improvement. The rush defense was OK last season, but the secondary was a sieve. Linebacker is a huge concern this spring, as there are no full-time starters returning at the position.

The line has potential, and the new staff might be able to coax better production out of the secondary, as all four starters are back.

Doug Drowley of WazzuWatch.com – a Rivals.com website that covers Washington State – provides a more in-depth look at spring practice.

The biggest problem: Everything is new. A new coaching staff brings new offensive and defensive systems. Both have to be implemented in a short time to allow the Cougars time to develop proficiency heading into summer and ultimately into fall practice, when the current players will need to convey what’s going on to an incoming group of freshmen. Leach said the basic installation of the offense should happen in the first four practices of spring; the remaining “bulk of time we want to spend developing skills to do it with as much precision as we can.”

On the spot: QBs Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday. Leach says the quarterbacks will get an equal number of snaps at the beginning of spring. The two have enough skills, Leach said, that the staff didn’t chase any transfer quarterbacks during recruiting. But after injury-plagued seasons from both in 2011, each must prove he can do the job in Leach’s offense.

On the verge: WR Marquess Wilson. He has had two big seasons for the Cougars, but he could put up monster numbers in Leach’s system. “He always wants the ball,” Leach said. Wilson isn’t afraid of traffic, so he can go inside to make catches, and he’s among a group of receivers overall that Leach says is taller than he has had in the past, which is a plus.

General overview: Implementation of a completely new system is priority No. 1 in Pullman this spring. The coaching staff has been going over numerous procedures in an effort to make the transition as smooth as possible. One key to the success of the new offensive scheme will be finding depth along the line.

For in-depth coverage of Washington State athletics, go to WazzuWatch.com

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