Leach has three things most on his mind

DRILLS HUMMED in the background of Mike Leach’s conference call on Thursday afternoon, as workers put some finishing touches on the Football Operations Building. Although Leach stopped for several seconds to call attention to the work outside, the head football coach at Washington State wasn't to be distracted. He said there are three things he most wants to get done in camp.

Heading to Lewiston, Mike Leach first wants the team to develop chemistry.

“Rather than being scattered around, everybody is closer together,” Leach said. “It’s sort of a dorm complex with everybody packed in side-by-side. Everybody buses over to where they need to go together, and that campus is not active at that time, so we pretty much have the place to ourselves for the most part.”

Leach said the yellow buses the team uses on a daily basis are like a throwback to when every one of them started playing and coaching football. The players are also paired together in offense/defense, big/small, and old/young dynamics. Mixing the cultural backgrounds is important, too, Leach said.

“The biggest thing is that you want people associating with the teammates they may not see or be as familiar with in drills,” Leach said. “It makes them appreciate the backgrounds of our team, and in the end, even though it’s unfamiliar, that’s really what makes it the most exciting. No sport has the diversity that football does.”

Beyond that, it’s about making sure players progress, and teaching the young guys their role on the team.

The 2014 vintage is the best of the three Cougar teams Leach has coached, he said, thanks to two intensive off-seasons for the veterans, steadily improved recruiting classes, and the development of a group of guys that is knit tighter and more motivated than in previous years.

“When I first got here, I always got the sense that there was too much satisfaction of being on the team rather than achieving a great deal. Now people push each other to achieve,” Leach said. He added that a good portion of the effort is controlled by the players themselves.

As far as the depth chart goes, Theron West and Jamal Morrow are listed 1-2 at the running back position, but Leach said that spot is pretty open. Marcus Mason, Teondray Caldwell and Gerard Wicks are also all capable starters.

However, Leach said he expects to make a quick decision about who will become the primary back because of the need to invest reps in that player to develop his skills. He based the decision for the depth chart on who had the best spring.

A defensive back who received high praise in the press conference was redshirt sophomore Beau Glover (pictured). He's listed as the backup to sophomore Isaac Dotson at the strong safety position. Leach said that since Glover walked on in 2012, he has worked his way up by consistently making the right plays at the right time. At first, it was attributed to luck, Leach said, and now it has turned into actual skill. Even if it was just luck, Leach said he wouldn’t mind that because it is impossible to plan against luck.

Besides the secondary, the other glaring area of scrutiny that Leach focused in on was the offensive line. Leach said he is grateful to have a much larger offensive line this year that averages 300-plus pounds in weight, compared to the last two years’ rough average of 270, which he said was the lowest in the Pac-12 in both seasons.

“We need to try to pack as much experience as quickly as we can,” Leach said of the group up front.

If that line can hold for just a fraction of a second longer, redshirt senior quarterback Connor Halliday and the receivers will be far more explosive this season, Leach said.

Expect the quarterbacks and the receivers to be practicing a fair amount of vertical routes in camp, too.

Leach likes these plays because it increases the familiarity between the quarterbacks and the receivers, and it requires the defense to execute at an extremely high level.

“What benefits the defense on it, is that you’re requiring perfect execution, and you’re not going to achieve the perfection part of it, but you’re going to get better at it,” Leach said.

At the quarterback position, redshirt freshman Luke Falk will be receiving most of the reps with the second team, as incoming true freshman Peyton Bender continues to study the offense.

The temperature is expected to be hot in Lewiston over the course of camp, but as far as football is concerned, Leach said he thinks the heat factor is slightly overrated. However, he did reference one especially hot training camp when he was coaching at Texas Tech, during which it was between 110 and 115 degrees. He said it is good to condition the players to what they are going to experience early in the season, but that particular time was devastating in that it wore the team out more than it should have, causing them to need to back off. At that point, the heat became counterproductive, Leach said.

Fall training camp begins Saturday at Sacajawea Middle School. And CF.C will be there to cover it for you.

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