Let's just get this out in the open and out of the way quickly: Marquess Wilson is Michael Crabtree. We've made jokes about the constant desire to compare players on the current roster to that of Mike Leach's tenure at Texas Tech, and the Wilson-Crabtree comparison is no different. Since Leach joined the mix, there's been a sentiment that the two are alike and that Wilson can put up the numbers Crabtree did.
However, that's not what this is about. Wilson may, at some point, rise to the level of success Crabtree did at Texas Tech. They are not the same player, though -- not in skill set or production ... yet. Wilson has plenty of work to do to get to Crabtree's level, especially on the physical front.
So why are they the same player? Because Wilson is being handled exactly like Crabtree was at Texas Tech. Head coach Mike Leach has cloned his philosophy and the way he handled Crabtree, applying it to Wilson. It's been readily apparent throughout the spring.
The vocal criticisms we've publicly heard from Leach about Wilson and his work ethic are carefully calculated, drawn from his time coaching Crabtree. It's a playbook -- one he's followed almost to a T. Here's this very skilled receiver that's already seen a high level of success. But don't for a minute think Wilson's work is done.
Leach devotes a lengthy portion of a chapter in Swing Your Sword to his dealings with players, specifically Crabtree. He's all about finding ways to motivate, whether it be taking a player aside privately or ripping them publicly. He molds his motivational techniques with what he feels will work best for the player, after gauging them.
With Crabtree, it took lighting him up over and over to bring the best out of the star receiver. Crabtree was often quiet, mumbling to himself throughout practice. Leach would see effort he didn't like, tear into Crabtree and the receiver would respond -- often by mauling a defensive back, then sustaining that level of play and physicality throughout the rest of practice. He was good even at half-speed, but the best when he actually brought it on every play, in a game or in practice.
In Wilson, Leach has a similar type of player, at least from a mental standpoint. Wilson is often quiet, in interviews and on the field. He's obviously got the skills to be great, but can also fly under the radar a bit, relying on raw talent while setting aside work ethic. So Leach went at him the same way he went at Crabtree -- being vocally disappointed in the star's work, demoting him to send a message, and publicly reminding everyone that Wilson wasn't great.
Leach talked about Wilson and Dominique Williams, who each had strong games on Saturday, following the Crimson and Gray game. Even after a solid day, he was quick to remind everyone what's missing.
"I think the two of them need to be guys that can consistently do that in practice. If they want to be good players that periodically make great catches, well that's where they're at right now. If they want to be guys that can do it consistently -- and be great receivers, cuz right now they're good receivers. They're not great receivers. They're good receivers. They want to be great receivers, they need to practice and play with that sense of urgency every snap in practice."
He said he does this to establish a threshold and build upon it. If the coaching staff is getting 75-percent in practice, they're trying to building on top of something that isn't full strength. However, if a player is going all-out in practice, it allows the coaching staff to push them that much further.
"You take the threshold they played at today and you improve from there. Right now, we're improving from some level a little below that because we don't get that consistently in practice. But I thought it was impressive today and it was nice that that was revealed so now we can know what to expect and push to make that a common occurrance.
Now that it's revealed they're capable of it, we'll just stick that on film and anything short of that, we'll get their attention a little bit. Kind of a botch on their part to reveal they're capable of that because now they kind of armed us with a little bit."
Jeff Tuel said the same thing about Wilson. The talent is undeniable, but there's something missing every once in a while.
"Yeah, I mean, I've been waiting for him to do it the whole spring. I mean, the guy tries to act like he's not that fast or something on the practice field. you come out here on the game field and I throw it as far as I want and he'll run after it. It's good to see. It's fun. I can wink at Marquess and say hey, run this play. Take off running.
I got to hold him accountable sometimes with that."
Like Leach, Tuel said Wilson needs that extra push.
"He's a guy who likes to have a little fun. Just give him a little kick or say hey let's have fun out here and he'll do it. Just let him know you're looking for him or you need him and he'll be there for you."
For his part, Wilson was very self-aware. He understood he hasn't been bringing it and was focused on changing his habits.
"I have my days, Wilson said. "It's just different styles of me that come out some days and another one the next."
We won't know if it's working for some time, but Saturday may have been a sign of things to come. Wilson was appreciative of the coaching staff's efforts, and shouldered the blame, vowing to push himself harder in the process.
"They just push me to be the best player I can be. It's helping me a lot. I'm finding out a lot of the stuff I can do. Just being not lazy, it helps me as a player.
In all, that's just my fault. I can understand where they're coming from. Doing that, it makes me work hard. It helps me out a lot."
Right now, Wilson is Crabtree from a mental side -- supremely talented, but prone to lapses at times. Should he continue to push himself and step his effort up in practice and on the field, he could produce the numbers Crabtree did at Texas Tech. He'll need to be more physical -- something Crabtree outpaces him on by miles -- and will have to learn to run better routes.
But it all starts with his effort, something Leach spent the entire spring hammering home.