Usually in Washington, spring football practice kind of sneaks up on you with a "Woah, it's spring?". I golfed in shorts and a short sleeve shirt today so even though the equinox isn't until the 20th, it has felt like spring since, well, fall.
WSU kicks off spring practice March 26th at 3:30 p.m. and the team gets 15 practices, including the Spring Game at Joe Albi Stadium on April 25th at 2 p.m. With those practices spread out of the course of the month (with one after the spring game to wind down), no incoming freshman, a junior college transfer or two and a summer of weightlifting to do, these practices are mostly repetitions to hit the ground running better in the fall. In Mike Leach's Air Raid, those repetitions are especially important.
Even though it's another three months until fall camp once the spring is over, there are a few story lines we can keep an eye on.
1. Will A Good Defensive Back Please Stand Up (Or Cover Well)
Daquawn Brown is no longer with the team and along with his incredible cheetah prints disappearing, WSU's best player in the secondary did too. The Cougs were already thin back there before his untimely departure and things will be precariously skinny in the spring. Plenty of bodies in the form of JC transfers and new freshman will be on the field in August (Shalom Lunai will be on the field this month), but for now the pickings are slim.
The much ballyhoo'd Sebastian LaRue will be getting his second spring practice in with WSU while Jeff Farrar will be going through his first. I'll be especially interested to see what new defensive coordinator and secondary coach Alex Grinch (more on him about 80 words from now) can get out of those two in his first go-round with the team. Other than those two...ho boy. Charleston White looked brilliant at times last year so right now he's probably got the inside track at one corner spot. Marcellus Pippins and Pat Porter are probably headed for a redshirt. I'm president of the Sulaiman Hameed Fan Club but he's hopefully headed for a redshirt as well. So the reliable defensive backs playing in spring ball are Charleston White, Darius Lemora and...
Hey, there's that nausea coming back again!
2. You're The New Guy...Mr. Grinch
This will be our first chance to see how the defense looks under new defensive coordinator Alex Grinch. We know he'll be running a 3-4 but whether it's the traditional kind or one with a wrinkle, we don't know. Besides running the defense, Grinch has a lot of work to do in his other job as the secondary coach.
That's all before we get to this: there's a lot riding on your doing a decent job this year, Alex. Every time I thought the defense had found a new bottom last year, they somehow managed to get through the rock at the bottom of the pit with a jackhammer. In a season where a lot needs to go right, relying on a first time defensive coordinator is either ballsy or dumb. We'll have to wait until October to find out.
3. Anybody Wanna Stop Running Backs?
Toni Pole: graduated. Xavier Cooper: 'bout to get PAID. WSU's two best defensive lineman are now their former defensive lineman so someone, heck, multiple someones need to step in.
Ivan McLennan and his 4.5 sacks are back from last season along with Destiny Vaeao, Darryl Paulo and Daniel Ekuale. The guys I've been licking my chops to see though are the freshman coming off a redshirt. Kingston Fernandez, Hercules Mata'afa (nominee for All-Name Team) and Ngalu Tapa will be getting in their first spring work and I'm excited to see how they look after a winter in the weight room. Losing Pole and Cooper means there are big voids to fill but WSU might just have the bodies to do it.
4. What Is This "Running Back" You Speak Of?
Two running backs. Two. That's how many WSU has on the roster for the spring. Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow. That's it.
I'm a big fan of both. But there are only "both" of them on this roster right now until fall camp when James Williams and...
/looks at 2015 class
Umm...please don't get hurt, guys. That's all I want for spring camp. And fall camp. And the entire season.
5. Falk vs. Bender
The big showdown won't happen until the fall but we've got ourselves a genuine quarterback battle. Even if Falk had replicated that incredible performance against Oregon State twice more at the end of the season, there was always probably going to be an open competition for the starting role this spring and fall.
The closest we've come to an open competition was in Leach's first year between Jeff Tuel and Halliday but it still took a Tuel injury to put Halliday on the field. Preaching the importance of a quarterback in this offensive system would be wasting space but it does heighten the excitement around this decision.
I don't know a lot about this quarterback battle but I know two things: it won't be decided by the end of April and Mike Leach isn't going to give a straight answer about it until November.
So those are the big story lines for me. What about you?
We've embedded the tweet with the practice schedule below but holy crap, is it hard to read. It's typed up below if you're having trouble.
Thursday, March 26 - 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, March 28 - TBA
Tuesday, March 31 - 3:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 2 - 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 4 - TBA
Tuesday, April 7 - 3:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 9 - 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 11 - TBA
Tuesday, April 14 - 3:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 16 - 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 19 - TBA
Tuesday, April 21 - 3:30 p.m.
Thursday, April 23 - 3:30 p.m.
Saturday, April 25 - 2:00 p.m. (Spring Game at Joe Albi Stadium in Spokane)
Tuesday, April 28 - 3:30 p.m.
Side note: those Saturday times are TBA because they'll end up scrimmaging on a couple of them, practicing on the others.