It's all in feet and hips, Leaf tells Tuel

ASK JEFF TUEL the first word that pops in his head when he hears the name Ryan Leaf and the answer very likely would be "footwork." Or maybe "hip rotation." Last month, when Leaf was in Pullman for the WSU-UCLA basketball game, and again this week with Leaf in town working on the book he's writing, Tuel asked the one-time All-American if he'd come watch a workout and maybe offer up some pointers.

That's where the footwork and hip rotation come in.

To call Leaf an evangelist for the power of mechanics is an understatement. When he was the quarterbacks coach at Division II West Texas A&M he drilled it all until his troops were doing it in their sleep. While other, more highly publicized Texan QBs from bigger schools went undrafted, one of Leaf's pupils, Keith Null, was a sixth-round NFL draft pick and is now playing for the Carolina Panthers. Another, Dalton Bell, is a former Seahawks practice squad player who now starts in the CFL for Toronto.

Leaf's recent tutorials in Pullman began last month when Tuel texted him the week of the UCLA hoops game. There was going to be a players-only walk-through on Saturday in advance of spring ball kicking off and Tuel wanted Leaf to come watch the quarterbacks group throw.

"It was great, we talked about throwing mechanics, and I just chatted Jeff and those guys up. Jack Thompson did that for me when I was a player. It's my turn to give back," said Leaf, who was on the Palouse again this week and hit the field with the QBs for a second time.

Mechanically, the most important thing Leaf talked about with the WSU quarterbacks had nothing to do with the throwing arm.

"A lot of footwork stuff -- the stuff I really worked on with my QBs at West Texas," Leaf said. "I think people kind of forget about that. They're more interested on arm angle, and that's important, but if you're not taking care of the footwork, none of the other stuff matters."

Leaf also talked with the QBs about hip rotation, and the need to throw more with the body than the arm. A quarterback standing sideways to his target effectively needs to rotate the hips so that, in the case of a right-hander, the right hip swings up to the spot where the left had been. That rotation creates power that goes into the throw but has nothing to do with arm strength.

"All QBs have had days when they feel like their arm is going to fall off, after we've thrown a million passes," Leaf said. "But when you finally learn how to throw with your body, when the body is doing the work, then you can throw all day long. Your accuracy and zip, they're all better and you feel like you can throw forever. Jeff said he really worked on that this offseason -- and it looks like it. He has a lot more zip because he's accomplished that."

Leaf and Tuel have become fast friends since their initial meeting at the annual Cougar football dinner in Seattle a little more than a year ago, but Leaf also has gotten to know all of the Cougar QBs and spent time with each while in Pullman.

"I worked with all of them -- Marshall (Lobbestael), Connor (Halliday), Gilby (David Gilbertson). They all were really receptive, which was great," said Leaf. "They all want to do whatever they can, they're all really hungry to win at Washington State and that's awesome to see.

"Halliday, he reminds me a lot of myself. He redshirted, wore No. 13 which I did when I redshirted. I hear he really took advantage of being the scout team QB, like I did. He's still a little gangly, kinda like I was, he needs to work on his footwork and hasn't grown into his body yet, just like I hadn't. You go back to my freshman year, I was just a skinny rail of a guy. And the semester after that football season, that summer, was where I really started to see my body start to change.

"Gilby, I think he looked very good throwing the ball. He's a shorter guy but he threw it well. He's really good friends with Tuel from what I understand and that's important. And Marshall, he's got a lot of experience and I think he really helps Jeff in ways people don't necessarily see. He's become a great senior leader who commands a lot of respect. And he's always working, always trying to outwork everybody."

Leaf was in Spokane on Saturday for the final scrimmage of the spring. More than 4,000 fans came out to watch. As for Tuel, who went 12-of-17 for 128 yards and a touchdown, Leaf said he was "just outstanding in his execution -- he's a real bright spot for that football team right now and that's great to see at the QB position again for Washington State University.

"People think as former players we don't want to see our records broken. It's just the opposite, for me anyway. I would love, LOVE, to see Jeff break every record of mine, break 'em all -- and then I'd love to see them go to the Rose Bowl. It just makes me very pleased, very proud, to see how hard he's trying to get better and win."

Leaf also touched upon a few other topics in his conversation with CF.C this week:

  • He said he'd like to see a return to the old days of the Crimson & Gray Game, when the teams were equally balanced and the sides divided through a draft conducted by the senior captains. That's how it was done when he was in school. The draft would be held the week before the game, thus allowing, Leaf said with a laugh, for major trash talking in the days leading up.

  • Leaf said the facilities improvements that WSU is planning for football are much needed, but he told Tuel & Co. that things are a lot nicer in the locker room today than when he played. "They've got the big La-Z boys, they've got the TVs and everything. I told them, ‘You guys are spoiled – you should be 10-2 every year with this stuff. It wasn't like this when I was here,'" Leaf laughed. "They just looked at me, like, ‘Really?'"

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