COUNTDOWN TO SPRING: A look at the QBs

SPRING BALL KICKS off one week from today, and the Cougs don't have a lot of uncertainty at the position. Starter Jeff Tuel is coming off a season where he completed 59.8 percent of his passes with the third highest yards per attempt in the Pac-10 -- despite being under duress much of the time. But Connor Halliday is an up and coming talent, and one school of thought goes like this…

..the worst that can happen is that Connor Halliday pushes Jeff Tuel to be that much better out on the field, beginning in the 15-practice spring session that gets underway next week.

Tuel has all the physical tools, and he's stronger than he was last year. He has great QB instincts and he's a great competitor – perhaps the best example came last year against Oregon State, where he took over the game.

In order to reach his full potential, areas Tuel might be working on this spring include quickening up his release. Tuel has a nice, natural overhand delivery but he might be well served by incorporating his off-arm more into his throwing motion – and that will help speed up his release. And don't be surprised if he makes quicker, better reads this spring, entering his third year in the WSU program.

Tuel began to show last year his leadership skills on the offense, and further development in that area will only help Washington State.

Tuel put up solid numbers last season but imagine what he might have done with better protection. He was sacked a monstrous 48 times. For comparison, the other nine starting QBs in the conference were sacked an average of just 17.4 times. Andrew Luck of Stanford was sacked only six times in 2010.

Granted, some of those 48 sacks were on Tuel where he simply held the ball too long. But so many more were due to poor protection. Still, Tuel completed 219 of 366 passes for 2,780 yards (7.6 yards per attempt) with 18 TDs against 12 interceptions. Take away his sack yardage, and he ran for 459 hashes.

Also impressive was that Tuel remained, time and time again, laser-focused downfield and not on the incoming pass rush. And he proved his toughness and mettle throughout 2010, starting all 12 games.

HALLIDAY SPENT HIS redshirt season running the scout team, yet he still impressed at times.

On the scout team the QB puts the ball in a certain place, regardless of what the coverage looks like. The scout team, after all, is there to give the 1s and 2s the best possible look for that week's opponent. And so by definition, the scout team QB running plays off a card is not going to look all that sharp at times.

That Halliday shined as much as he did running the scout team speaks well for his future.

What he needs most is to improve his strength. His quarterbacking skills and potential are way up there, it's most about being physically ready to play. His redshirt year will have a positive effect on that, and this offseason will as well. The spring will be the first look at how much he's been able to accomplish in that area.

ENTERING HIS SENIOR season, and because he was Tuel's backup last year, Marshall Lobbestael will probably be listed No. 2 on the spring depth chart. He figures to have a fight on his hands to retain that position this spring with the emergence of Halliday.

Working in his favor is that Lobbestael works exceedingly hard – he's a regular after practice, getting in extra work, and regardless of whether it's skelly in the offseason or game week practices in the fall.

Lobbestael played sparingly last season, seeing action in six games and completing 7-of-15 passes.

Also in the QB mix for backup slots are Dan Wagner, a redshirt senior who will also be competing for the starting punting job; David Gilbertson, a third year sophomore walk-on and the son of Keith Gilbertson, senior assistant on offense for the Cleveland Browns; and Gordy Anderson, a redshirt freshman walk-on who set several records at South Kitsap High in Port Orchard.

NOTABLE NOTE:
Cody Clements, who signed with Washington State this month out of La Habra, Calif., arrives in the fall. Expected to redshirt this coming season, Clements during the past two seasons passed for 4,217 yards, 61 TDs and just six interceptions. In 2010, he completed 67 percent of his throws and tossed only one interception..

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