Leach ready to roll as spring ball looms

MIKE LEACH DID NOT have time to focus on a bracket for March Madness this year. He simply doesn't have time, or, as he said, the expertise. After all, he is focusing on maximizing every moment of his second Spring Ball in Pullman, which starts Thursday.

Leach, who has won exactly one NCAA basketball pool ever – he went with UNLV in 1990 – said during a teleconference this afternoon that the Cougars' biggest priority is polishing the skills they acquired last year.

"We'll have a body of work to work from, and a ton to learn from that," he said.

One thing is certain, he said: "All positions are up for grabs. They are every spring."

Leach said that the quarterback battle between junior Connor Halliday and freshman Austin Apodaca is "not as complicated as everyone makes them out to be."

"You go out, you rep them, and one (wins)," he said. "I think it will be a pretty good contest." Leach added that neither has an "overwhelming amount" of experience, but that he would give the edge to Halliday, who played in nine games last season and has "a little stronger arm."

"But I don't know if that's fair," he said, adding that both are hard-working. "I've seen Connor throw more than Austin has, but I think they're similar … and I think they both are getting better."

He said that Apodaca is working to get out of the "backup, scout-team guy mentality."

"He's been better than most of them I've had, but that switch has got to be turned and I think it already has, probably."

Leach said he plans to give the pair equal reps at first, but will move to two-thirds/one-thirds as spring ball goes on. He anticipates both getting myriad opportunities because he doesn't really have a third quarterback in the mix.

"You have one guy who's a redshirt freshman, and Connor has either started or been involved in a number of games," he said. "I want someone here to lock down the position."

Leach said he enjoys seeing the competition between two players vying for one spot.

"They work really hard and then at the end they're both surprised at how far they've come."

LEACH, WHO PLAYED 17 freshmen last season, said that the team, while young, benefits from having some experience under his regime. He pointed out that the group's grade-point average is the highest it has been in 11 years.

"We'll get off to a quicker start," he said. "They know how to line up to do the drills so we can get into the evaluation position quicker and go further as far as teaching the details."

The offensive line, which was comprised of just six players last season, is deeper and he expects to see some battles as the team gets into fall camp and the freshmen arrive.

"We have more bodies available to us right now on the offensive line than we did all season," he said with a little laugh. "I think that will be interesting, this business of process of elimination."

He added that the receivers, most of whom are returning players, have improved and are "more exciting in dynamic stuff."

As for the defensive line, he said he expects improvement from the young players and already sees more speed up front than in 2012.

"They're bigger, stronger and older (but) I also think we'd like to be three deep and three-on-three where they're fighting it out, a total battle between three people instead of a process of elimination."

LEACH SAID HE IS excited about the incoming group of rookies – three JC midyear transfers and two grayshirts arrived in Pullman this January – but demurred on who he expects to play early.

"I've been wrong about that more than any other item – about freshmen who will play early – so it's just hard to tell. The guys (should) do the same thing that got them here every time and just build on it."

Leach said that he has seen players get caught up on great plays they make in spring practice and then feel they should be "doing this and that."

"So you made a great play?" he said dismissively. "It's about how many plays you can make in succession and how many bad plays you can avoid.

"Guys who never make a great play but never make a bad play are typically more valuable than really, anybody."

Leach said that spring practices will be conducted on both the practice field and in Martin Stadium, and that those wanting to watch would be better off going to the stadium.

His one wish? More days to scrimmage.

"Not even so much like a scrimmage game," he said. "That would be alright, too – but a mixed practice like they do in the NFL preseason."

Cougfan Top Stories