Practicing with Leach: Animals don't stretch

MIKE LEACH IS months away from his first spring football session at Washington State. But it looks like practice on the Palouse will be much different than it has been in decades. And some changes will be immediately apparent.

For one, don't expect to see a lot of stretching before practice.

Um, no stretching? That's been around since, what, forever?

"Animals don't stretch before they chase prey," he says in his boo Swing Your Sword: Leading the Charge in Football and Life, adding that "We end up having fewer pulled muscles than other teams, too."

Tech teams under Leach simply opened practice going at one-quarter speed, then they go half-speed, then they're ready to go full out. It also adds about 15 minutes more to a practice session where work is getting done.

Leach likes to go with lengthy practices during spring ball but shorter ones in fall camp practices. Why?

He's good with his starters getting a ton of play under their belts in the spring because they don't have to play in a game on Saturday. A lot of special teams work is done in the spring, too. The pace during the spring is breakneck.

Once fall rolls around, practices are marked by shorter sessions, no two-a-days, and less hitting. A quick pace, however, is still omnipresent. Leach says he generally has one less "physical" practice a week than other teams during the season. That alone puts him in good company -- the only coach in WSU history to win a Rose Bowl (Lone Star Dietz) was a pioneer in reducing physical contact in practices.

ANOTHER DEPARTURE from the past is likely to happen with the practice schedule during the regular season. Under Leach, expect the Cougs to practice on Sundays after film study and meetings rather than Mondays. And special teams gets the first 30 minutes of that session. Indeed, special teams work and meetings are regular and often throughout game week with Leach.

And the position meetings and film study on Sunday are going to be very important for the QB -- he'll have to be ready to audible, and correctly so against the coming week's opponent, on Sunday night. Leach wants his QBs to be quick study-types, able to make the correct checks during Sunday night's practice, for the defense they're going to play on Saturday.

Every team has some of those "bad" practices in spring and fall camp but Leach has a plan to minimize those. The Cougs will go full speed action during fall practice -- not full contact, but full speed. Having good energy at practice, something seemingly overlooked by many schools, says Leach, is a must each and every time out.

TO KEEP NON-STARTERS sharp, Leach runs side-by-side skeleton drills so everyone gets in a lot of reps. That was something Paul Wulff started doing this season, ostensibly because he felt he finally had a enough depth to make it work.

Keeping the understudies sharp happens in another way, as well. Thursday practices for the first-string ends after an hour, at which time the guys lower on the depth chart line up for a 35-play scrimmage while everyone else cheers along.

LEACH, IT SEEMS, is all about working as efficiently as possible. Get the work done, and that's that. However long it takes, and no longer. That often means less time not only in practice for the players, but for coaches in their duties as well.

The staff can work until 1 am or 2 am, but they can also be done at 11 pm. On Wednesdays during a game week, Leach writes that he generally rolls in around 10 am. On Fridays, he might not get into the office until around 2 pm. "Never confuse activity with results," he says.

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