First off, Gesser (pictured above in Lewiston observing Hilinski) told CF.C that Hilinski has improved considerably since he wrapped up his redshirt season this past December.
“Going into spring his biggest fault was, in my mind, his throwing motion,” said Gesser. “It had been a very elongated throwing motion. When you’re a true freshman and trying to figure out the offense, the ball is going to be late for the most part. And with an elongated motion, you’re going to struggle even more. And that’s what he showed his first year.
“But now he’s quickened up his motion tremendously. From last fall to this spring he improved on that. And from the spring to now, it’s improved even more -- his efficiency in his arm movement and when that ball is coming out. His timing has gotten better. And as he continues to understand the offense, it should improve more.”
That doesn’t mean Hilinski should be expected, if called upon, to come in and suddenly be Falk, a fourth-year junior and darkhorse Heisman candidate in 2016.
“He’s young -- at the end of the day, he’s still young,” said Gesser of the second-year freshman. “The biggest thing for him to do is to continue to improve his throwing motion, to use his mobility to escape and make plays, whether by throwing the ball or running it, because he’s improved all of these things – but by no means is he a rock star at those things. Has he gotten better at them? Yes. But can you still see some areas where improvement is needed? Yes.”
“When he tries a slower throw or a touch throw, his elongated motion comes back a little,” Gesser said. “His feet will get lazy from time to time. He needs to better measure things up and find the timing of where your feet and arm are and how that ball needs to come out. Each day he practices as the No. 2, he’s going to accumulate more and more knowledge and comfort in doing all those things he needs to do.”
The Air Raid offense should also help if Hilinski had to suddenly come in and go under center.
“The one thing about Leach’s offense is that it is so simplistic and they rep it so much… Hilinski is going to have enough No. 2 reps that if the unthinkable did happen and Luke were to go down, Hilinski would be in a similar position just like Luke was when Connor Halliday went down. Knock on wood, hopefully that won’t be necessary. But if it is, I think Coach Leach would run the offense the same way it was meant to be run if Hilinski did come in,” said Gesser.
As fans will remember from the 2014 season, Falk over those last three-plus games was at times fantastic, at other times he struggled.
“I do think Hilinksi would have a little bit of a learning curve if he had to come in, just like Luke did. All those things we’ve talked about -- the fundamentals, the quick release, the footwork, the timing, they need to become second nature. They’re not second nature for Hilinksi yet… So you may not see Luke Falk out there, but you’re going to see someone that can make plays, will build in confidence, move the chains, maybe make a run or two and have some success.”
With WSU fielding as strong a running back corps as they have in years, would they run the ball more if Hilinski was under center?
“That would all fall on him,” said Gesser. “It was the same when Luke came in the game. They were the same plays being called for Luke and Connor Halliday. Connor chose to stick with the passing concepts and Luke said you know what, I believe in my running backs, I believe in my o-line, I’m going to run the ball when the box tells me to and the defense shows me it’s a favorable check. I think with Hilinski, he’ll do the same thing as Luke. And that will only give him a better chance of completing passes downfield,” said Gesser.
Behind Falk and Hilinski on the depth chart are a pair of sophomore JUCO transfers: Anthony Gordon and walk on Trey Tinsley. Leach loves competition but in a rarity, the No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks have been clearly defined since Day One of fall ball, said Gesser.
“Hilinski is the clear No. 2. The skills set show that, the reps show that. Hilinski has shown he can improve, that he can be the No. 2. If he wasn’t showing that, you would have seen them open it up here in fall camp. But that hasn’t been the case. Along with his improved throwing motion, his mobility, to be able to escape and make plays whether by throwing the ball or running it, he’s shown them he’s the clear cut No. 2,” said Gesser.
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