- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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As Washington State kicks off spring ball Thursday, head coach Mike Leach isn’t focusing on one particular theme or message. In his mind, the message should be universal: get better every day, regardless of the calendar. And if he has to remind his guys of that, then, well, they aren’t his guys.
“We don’t have a lot of guys looking for ways to get out of work,” Leach said. “They are all collectively working pretty hard. Those looking for the easy way are quickly getting outnumbered.”
As Leach enters his third spring as the Cougars’ head coach, the team has taken on more of a “his guys” personality. Gone are the days of whiny receivers and bellyaching over workouts. He believes everyone on his roster is committed to his way of thinking at least, he hopes so.
And his guys know that heading into spring, nothing is certain.
“Everything is a competition,” Leach said. “People have the opportunity to beat one another out and you earn your job every day. The reps will be split up. The guys who are ahead or performing better will get more reps to try and further develop their skills. How you perform will impact the number of reps you get. But that won’t declare anything necessarily. Once you get to camp you have to do it all over again.”
That shines an extremely bright spotlight on a few position groups: the secondary, the offensive line and possibly running back. The Cougars have to replace All-American safety Deone Bucannon and both corners, Damante Horton and Nolan Washington. Several spots on the line are up for grabs -- returning starters included. And even the running back position, where Marcus Mason returns as the team’s leading rusher, isn’t a sure bet. Leach praised the potential of Theron West and Jamal Morrow.
“That whole position is chopping at his heels,” Leach said. “Mason was a steady guy last year. He did some good things. At the end of last year, the hottest running back we had was West. A lot of that took place in the bowl workouts and he had a pretty good game in the bowl game. Then Morrow has looked pretty good. He redshirted and did a lot of good things there. It will be a very competitive position.”
The spring depth chart -- the very definition of a living document -- lists a lot of youth in the secondary, including redshirt freshman Charleston White and sophomore Daquawn Brown as the corners and sophomore Isaac Dotson and junior Taylor Taliulu as the safeties.
“There are plenty of jobs open there,” Leach said. “The corner positions are open. The safety positions are open. It will be interesting to see. It’s a bunch of people who haven’t played a lot so they’ll be fighting it out to see who gets more playing time.”
Leach said he believes backup quarterbacks Tyler Bruggman and Luke Falk will get enough work to put some pressure on incumbent starter Connor Halliday: “I think Bruggman and Falk are both capable of pushing him. Both have a really good skill sets. Connor has the advantage in experience. We’re going to have the opportunity to rep a lot of them. We’ll run two pass skills throughout spring and rotate guys around. They’ll all have a lot of reps.”
The depth in the secondary might be complicated by the recent legal trouble of Brown. While he’s still officially listed on the depth chart, Leach said they are taking a wait-and-see approach with him: “We’re going to have to wait and see how everything unfolds. Right now what’s come out has been greatly embellished so we’ll have to see how all of that comes out.”
Leach was asked his thoughts on the news Wednesday that Northwestern football players qualify as employees and could unionize: “If these guys are professionals and they want everything to be like it is in the NFL, that means that shortly we’re going to be having a draft and I for one would be pretty excited about having a whole nation full of quality athletes to draft from. So I’m looking forward to that That means if somebody doesn’t perform well, you pay them less. If somebody performs real well, you pay them more. Although obviously every team should have the same salary cap. In addition to that, you have the opportunity to draft anybody you want. And maybe I’m wrong, but it follows if we’re going to professionalize this kind of stuff. It follows that you handle it like professionals do.”
2dCraig Haubert and Tom Luginbill