- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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When the Washington State Cougars kick off spring ball today, the hope is that things will be a little faster. A little crisper. There is an understanding of what coach Mike Leach now expects from his players -- both from a technical and a mental perspective.
"Statistically, a year older if nothing else," Leach said, addressing the media in a pre-spring conference call Wednesday. "I think in spring there is always some introduction and some re-introduction but there will be less of that. We should get out of the blocks a little quicker. Also we'll have a body of work from last year to learn from, which there is a ton to learn from that. If we can tighten everything a tiny bit all the way around, then the whole production will be higher."
But most importantly, the Cougars have to start believing they can be a good football team.
"We spent too many times as a team last year being surprised when something good happened to us," Leach said.
Headlining the spring session will be the quarterback competition between junior Connor Halliday and redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca. Leach said he isn't going to force the issue, but he wants to see some progress at the position before they break camp.
"[Quarterback competitions] aren't as complicated as everybody makes them out to be," Leach said. "You go out there. You rep them, and the guy that plays the best, you play him more than the other guy. But I think it will be a pretty good contest.
"Starting out they'll be 50-50 [in number of reps]," Leach said. "I do want to get them a lot of reps. The more the better. One guys is a redshirt freshman and then Connor has either started or been involved in a handful of games. I do want somebody to secure and lock down the position. I am going to give them as many reps as possible. It will be 50-50 for a period -- I would anticipate half or more of spring. I do have quite a bit of reps because I don't have a third guy working in. If I have three, then it's a little more tangled. Then it's harder. I'm in pretty good shape rep-wise this year."
There isn't a third ... yet. That will be reevaluated when touted recruit Tyler Bruggman joins the team in the fall.
"We'll find out," Leach said of Bruggman's possible involvement in the competition. "Early in camp we'll check and see where everybody is at."
Leach on speedy freshman wide receiver Robert Lewis: "He's fast. Has a real quick burst. In two steps he hits high gear and he's pretty elusive right and left. We're kind of excited to see what he can do. He played a variety of positions in high school -- everything from running back to receiver to returner to this, that and the other thing. We need to try to identify what he can do and see how close he is to being ready to play."
On changes he'd like to see to spring rules: "More days, and I'd like to be able to scrimmage somebody. Not like a scrimmage game [setting], more like a mixed practice like they do in the NFL. For example, somebody you don't play or maybe somebody you do, you have the inside drill against them. You have one-on-one against them. You have some team period plays against them."
On trying to speed up the tempo: "We went back and forth a little with it last year and then we got into a musical-quarterback situation. That was harder to do. It's always been part of it. We've done no-huddle for decades ... we'll no-huddle and that will be a part of things."
On former QB Jeff Tuel making an NFL roster: "It will be interesting. The biggest thing he's battling is experience. Jeff hasn't played in a ton of games because his career has been plagued by injuries and things of that nature. He needs to make up for experience as quick as he can and some of that experience has to do with winning games. The mental and physical experience has to pick up as fast as he can. I think he's talented. I think he's a smart guy. And a lot of it is right-place-right-time."