Look for QBs to move to 300-400 level courses

FOR THE FIRST time in a while, Washington State comes into spring with a clear cut No. 1 starter at quarterback, although that's not to say the No. 2 isn't intent on turning the 15-practice spring football session into a horse race. But there's something else, something bigger, that figures to be different this spring.

The Cougars still have not, after two years of virtually unheard-of injury levels across the board, installed the whole of offensive coordinator Todd Sturdy's offense. Any college coach can tell you why: never ask players to do what they're not capable of doing. With WSU forced to dip further and further down the depth chart across the board each of the last two injury-riddled years, Saturday's product has been but a fraction of Sturdy's offense.

But with only four Cougs -- total -- projected to be out injured when spring ball begins in about three weeks, (last year there were 24), Wazzu and the QBs should finally be able to get into the real nuts and bolts of Sturdy's offense. For the first time, because they're healthy, Sturdy and the offensive coaches can move on from the 101 classes they've had to teach previously, and move into the 300-400 level courses.

And because WSU this spring can go into much more depth on the intricacies of Sturdy's offense, quarterbacks Jeff Tuel and Marshall Lobbestael should be chief among the beneficiaries.

The WSU quarterbacks still likely to have their work cut out for them -- the Cougar D should be noticeably faster this year. And offenses are generally behind defenses the first part of a spring/fall camp while an offense gets their timing down. But this spring, the QBs should have far more tools at their disposal -- in both scheme and personnel.

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  • TUEL SITS ATOP the depth chart at quarterback after playing in six games his true freshman season before a knee injury ended his season. Paul Wulff has announced him 100 percent headed into the spring session that kicks off on March 25.

    Tuel gave a glimpse last season of the kind of Pac-10 quarterback he can be in his college debut against USC. Coming off the bench, his legs were as formidable a weapon as his arm.

    Still, Tuel remains a second year sophomore-to-be -- he has plenty to work on. Getting stronger, increasing his knowledge of the offense and proper read progressions are all on the list. As is one more item.

    IN THE SPLIT second world of college quarterbacking, Tuel began to shift his vision level downwards too quickly as the year wore on. It's hard to blame him, his protection was below average to begin with and as injuries continued to decimate the offensive line, it only got worse, and both he and Lobbestael were simply getting pounded.

    But the hard, cold reality is also that Tuel stopped looking downfield too soon and instead trained his eyes on the incoming rush. As a quarterback, this you cannot do, no matter how porous the protection. Taking eyes off the passing area takes away any option to throw, and looking at the rush itself ensures only one thing, a sack.

    Before he was injured, Tuel's numbers were fairly decent, particularly for a first year signal caller. He completed 71 of 121 passes (58.7 percent) for 789 yards, 6 TDs and 5 INTs. He doesn't possess an ultra-quick release but does have the aforementioned good feet plus good accuracy on short routes, and a good arm. Career-wise, he has excellent potential and this spring it's important for him to chart an upward path under Sturdy's tutelage.

    Last year, as was made apparent in post-game media interviews, Tuel was just happy to be playing as a true frosh in the Pac-10. That's understandable. Here's a starting Pac-10 QB a few months removed from high school, and true freshman rarely play. Even fewer experience a modicum of success.

    But for Tuel, that time is over. It's now time to compete and to win. Anything less should stick in his craw like week-old cornbread.

    MEANWHILE, LOBBESTAEL HAD a season to forget. While he was loathe to use his surgically repaired knee as an explanation, it was clear from the beginning of the '09 fall camp to the end of the season that he never quite trusted it. Lobbestael completed 67 of 144 passes (46.5 percent) for 655 yards, 3 TDs and 8 INTs in 2009.

    Beyond the numbers, his biggest issue was that he got in a deep rut, couldn't work his way out and interceptions followed one after another. It was almost like a golfer, worried about how badly he's going to slice his drive before even starting his swing.

    But Lobbestael is one of the hardest workers on the team, and he has a personality that enables him to view setbacks as opportunities. Now that he's been through the ringer and come out the other side, it won't be a surprise if Lobbestael takes a large step forward in 2010.

    MORE QB TALENT will arrive in the fall but this spring, beyond Tuel and Lobbestael, the Cougars have two walk-ons in David Gilbertson and Dan Wagner.

    Gilbertson has a chance to get a number of reps this spring and with the Cougs under-scholarship at the position, even has a chance to earn a full ride this year, Wulff has said. Gilbertson first impressed Wulff with his athletic ability and "moxie" at a Cougs' summer camp. Although way down the depth chart, Wagner has played in two games the past two seasons due to massive injury attrition that has taken place at quarterback. A natural athlete, he also serves as the team's backup punter.

    Highly regarded Connor Halliday, the No. 25 nationally rated QB prospect in nation in 2010 class, arrives in the fall. Halliday is in the Tuel mode -- quick feet, strong arm, good legs. But at 6-5, 186 pounds he could certainly use, at least, a season in the weight room before becoming Pac-10 ready. Halliday, however, is expected to turn heads in fall camp once the Cougar coaches get him out on the practice turf, similar to the way Tuel did a year ago.

    NOTABLE NOTE:
    The four Cougars slated to miss the spring session as they rehab from injury -- RB James Montgomery, LB Louis Bland, DB Anthony Houston and DT Josh Luapo.


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