First though, an important note: Due to the controlled setting of a spring game it’s generally unwise to draw definitive conclusions about the QBs. You truly never know until the live bullets fly. Despite my hesitation in extrapolating too much from the quarterback play in Saturday’s final spring scrimmage, I did come away with these observations on the most important position in Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense.
Falk hasn’t lost any of the cool, calm demeanor CougFans have become accustomed to over his career. Despite Grinch challenging the WSU offense with man coverage throughout the day, Falk hung in the pocket multiple times and was able to find open receivers late downfield. This is by far the talented Washington State quarterback’s most powerful asset. As new members of the receiving corps continue to get comfortable with timing and feel, what we saw on Saturday is only going to get better.
There were a handful of missed throws early on that gave me pause -- Falk & Co. are clearly still finding their rhythm when pushing the ball downfield. Fortunately, they were able to hit their stride late in the scrimmage on a couple of big throws. This development will be important from now until opening game Sept. 2.
In talking to those around this program, Falk has grown this offseason both physically (6-4, 225 pounds) and mentally. Falk has clearly benefited from a strong offseason in the weight room with strength coach Jason Loscalzo. The added weight and overall strength is going to pay dividends during the long Pac-12 season.
From a mental stand point, Falk is continuing to grow in his understanding of the game. Air Raid route concepts are tried and true in their ability to get receivers open. However, at a basic level they are mostly based off progression reads that rarely change. The ability for the quarterback to marry an understanding of defensive coverage with those progressions takes the effectiveness of the Air Raid to a whole other level (think Graham Harrell in 2008).
Falk’s importance to this team is followed closely by whoever will be backing him up this year -- not only in the event of injuryto QB-1, but also for the health of the program as a whole moving forward. Speaking of which ...
I came away from the spring game very impressed with Hilinski’s confidence when throwing the ball downfield. He made a number of different throws that demonstrated both touch and accuracy. That being said, it can be a fine line to walk as he also had a few close calls when forcing the ball into tight windows. Those close calls lead me directly into the next point.
Hilinski is a step behind in his ability to process information when compared to Falk. As a young QB, it is easy to overthink and not to trust what you are seeing. Early in the scrimmage, he had a ball broken up down the sideline by Robert Taylor that should have been a relatively easy completion had he been on time. Later, Isaiah Johnson-Mack made an incredible catch in traffic that again was more a product of Hilinski being slightly behind in his decision making. But there was a lot to like from the Hilinski's performance. He simply has to continue to grow and learn from the guy ahead of him.
I loved Hilinski's ability to extend the play with his legs. In addition to the rushing touchdown, he also had multiple first down runs that extended drives. This is a valuable weapon for the third-year sophomore quarterback as he learns to make reads and pull the trigger on time. The double edge sword: He also took a huge, unnecessary sack in the red zone when trying to do a little too much with his feet. Again, a great learning lesson that is only going to make him better moving forward.
ANTHONY GORDON AND TREY TINSLEY
These guys are a great example about my feelings when evaluating a spring game: despite opposite stat lines (2 INTs for Gordon, 2 TDs for Tinsley), I was still impressed with where both guys are in their development. The quarterback position is the most dependent position in all of sports which is why at times stats are so misleading.
I loved Tinsley’s ability to step on the field and play loose and confident. His trust in the system led to some big plays. In contrast, Gordon made a couple of poor decisions when trying to press the issue. Gordon, though, has a had a great spring and a day like Saturday is only going to serve his development moving forward.
The competition between these two is going to be important throughout the summer and fall. If Gordon and Tinsley continue to improve and mature, they will position themselves to push Hilinski and ultimately make the entire quarterback room better.
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ABOUT ALEX BRINK: As WSU's starting quarterback from 2004-2007, Alex Brink threw for more yards and touchdowns than anyone in school history -- and the third-most yards in Pac-10 history. He was picked second-team all-Pac-10 twice and honorable mention once. Drafted in the seventh round by the Houston Texans in 2008, he spent a season on their practice squad before playing five years in the Canadian Football League: three campaigns with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers (2010-12) followed by two seasons in Montreal (2013-14). A QB mentor with EForceFootball and Oregon Breed, he can be found on twitter at @AlexBrink10.