It seems whenever a new season begins, writers like to talk about the sounds and smells. They often remark about the smell of freshly cut grass or the sound of football pads popping for the first time. Washington State begins spring football practice today, but they practice on field turf and won't be in pads until next week, so thanks for nothing cliche sports writing introductions.
Normally the start of spring football at WSU isn't met with much fanfare, but this isn't a typical start to spring football. For the first time as the head coach of Washington State, Mike Leach will be on a field doing actual coaching. No more fundraisers, no more promo videos, just Leach with a whistle and 10,000 passes being thrown. With actual football things about to happen, here are five things I'm watching this spring.
One of the biggest goals of spring practice for any school is to get through it without suffering any major injuries. Players will inevitably get dinged and miss some time, but hopefully WSU can get through the 15 spring practices without any injuries that will linger into fall camp or the regular season. At the same time, spring football is also an opportunity to see where previously injured players are in their rehab. Leach does not discuss injuries publicly, so how much a player practices during spring is our best chance to gauge their current health. Connor Halliday is one to keep an eye on, but a few other players were nursing injuries at the end of last season.
With new offensive and defensive schemes, it's likely at least a few players will find themselves playing new positions. Spring is a great time for a new staff to move players around and see where they fit best. A few defensive ends may move to linebacker, but I wouldn't be surprised if a player or two switched sides of the ball. One player I'm watching in particular is Rahmel Dockery. All of the talk has been that Dockery will play wide receiver, but with a deep class of incoming freshman receivers it wouldn't shock me to see Dockery get some time at cornerback this spring.
Installing The New Schemes
During his press conference yesterday, Leach said he thought it would take four practices to install the basic framework of his offense. That is pretty remarkable, at least to me. One of the most prolific offenses in college football can be installed in as little as four practices. The previous staff took years to install the offense. I'm not saying Leach can't do it, because he is Mike Leach, but I'm looking forward to watching the process. If the spring game comes and the offense is running smoothly, will anyone wear pants all summer?
Competition is always part of college football. Close depth chart battles will still go down to the final days of fall camp, but spring practice is the time where some players begin to distinguish themselves. Everyone will monitor the quarterback competition, but nearly every position is up for grabs other than No. 1 wide receiver. One position I'm paying attention to is cornerback. Daniel Simmons and Nolan Washington are coming off injuries, while Damante Horton, Brandon Golden and Tracy Clark enter their third seasons in the program. Will anyone in the group begin to separate from the pack?
It seems every year a previously forgotten player, buried on the depth chart rises during spring football. Last year, Adam Coerper went from forgotten man to starting defensive end during spring. One player I think could be in line for a similar breakout this spring is Darren Markle. Markle came in as a highly touted linebacker but has never seen more than sporadic playing time in two seasons after redshirting. There is a major void to fill at linebacker so opportunity is no longer an issue. WSU would be in much better position if Markle locked down one of the open linebacker slots. Can he do it?