The annual arrival of August storms through the Palouse breathing life back into the rolling landscape. As students return to Pullman for fall semester, they arrive with one commonality on their minds: Cougar football.
I caught my first glimpse of the team Friday morning (August 3) as they hit Rogers Field, just west of Martin Stadium, for what appeared to be walk throughs. No more than a few hours later, the first official practice of Fall Camp was underway.
The following day, Washington State traveled 30 miles south to Sacajawea Junior High School in Lewiston, Idaho to carry out their next six practices. The trip has become somewhat of a tradition under head coach Mike Leach. “It’s good to bring the team together,” stated the head coach in a post practice interview. “Not a lot of distractions. It’s a great venue to do a lot of teaching,” he concluded.
After week one, questions still remain; however, there is no denying this team is beginning to take shape and form as a unit. After a week in Lewiston, these have been my biggest takeaways.
Gardner Minshew is a Coug
Washington State’s roster holds one signal caller with recorded college snaps in East Carolina graduate transfer Gardner Minshew. “It’s generally new,” Leach exclaimed when asked of his experience with graduate transfer quarterbacks. “Most of them I get are high school kids.” Just by watching practice, however, you would never know the Mississippi native arrived in Pullman just this summer.
Perhaps the most understated aspect of Minshew is how contagious his personality is. He comes on strong and has a presence upon entering a room that is almost palpable. “He’s like a crazy Luke Falk,” offered offensive lineman Robert Valencia. “He has been wearing camo pants the last three days with his aviator shades on,” the lineman briefly added before praising his new teammate’s leadership.
Valencia is just one many on the roster who cannot help but flash a smile when asked of the Cougs newly acquired gunslinger. Needless to say, the transfer has shown no problems making friends in Pullman.
It’s without question that Minshew has seamlessly assimilated into the tight-knit Cougar family. No matter the role he serves during his solo season with the Cougs, I see a guy who will leave the program better than he found it. Welcome aboard, 16.
The Quarterback Conundrum
Wazzu has shuffled through four different quarterbacks in first-team reps for skeleton, seven-on-seven and 11-on-11. They are as follows:
- Gardner Minshew
- Trey Tinsley
- Anthony Gordon
- Cammon Cooper
With each getting a chance to show off what they can do, none of whom have demonstrated an ability to separated themselves as a frontrunner.
It is worth noting that freshman Cammon Cooper, the only underclassman of the bunch, displayed the most struggle early and has since been removed from the competition. As for the remaining three? It’s anyone guess.
Had Tinsley not donned a glove on this throwing hand, it would be hard to tell the three apart without numbers across their chest. I would be splitting hairs to give one an edge.
It’s a little baffling to me that one of these guys will be labeled third-string. All of them can play and could potentially start on several Pac-12 rosters.
“This is as tough as any,” Leach said of his pending verdict on the starting position. To the best of my knowledge, he plans to make the call ten days before the Cougs season opener at Wyoming; however, he has continuously expressed an interest in concluding the race sooner rather than later.
Practice often concludes with team period, a time where each highlighted quarterback on that particular day gets the chance to drive the length of the field on live reps.
During this time, certain players on both sides of the ball have caught my eye. This includes:
- Jalen Thompson
- Max Borghi
- Tay Martin
Jalen looks like an emerging leader for the defensive unit. The junior safety has assumed a vocal role on the team this fall which is to be expected with his level of play and experience. He in consistently in the offense’s ear during team period and plays a physical style to back it up. I do not have any numbers or statistical data to prove this, but he looks sharp and ready for the season if it were to start tomorrow.
Borghi, a highly touted recruit by many, comes into camp with high expectations. It was not hard for me to see why. He has an unparalleled work ethic that has been acknowledged by coaches and teammates alike. “He doesn’t play like a freshman,” said fellow halfback Keith Harrington. “He is an all-around player. He is going to be deadly for sure.”
Perhaps the player I am most excited about for the 2018 campaign is sophomore Tay Martin. His tall and nimble frame makes him an enthralling target on the outside. Watching him make plays during 11-on-11 gives me Dom Williams nostalgia. I expect he will only get better from here.
Of course, these are not the only players doing big things out there. The list would be far too long. These few just happen to be the ones that surprised me early and are hard not to notice.
With Keith Harrington, James Williams and newly acclimated Max Borghi, do not be surprised if the chains start moving off of check downs.
The Cougs have a history of creating an efficient backfield by committee and this season looks to be no different. “We’ll play more than one guy,” running backs coach Eric Mele specified. “They are all doing some pretty good things right now.”
It has been hinted that each will be utilized to highlight their individual strengths. “It’s pretty tightly contested. James has some explosive qualities, Borghi has looked impressive and Keith’s effort keeps him in the mix,” voiced Leach.
With such talent and versatility at the position, WSU’s backfield has a high ceiling. Be on the lookout.
Matt Brock brings a lot to the table
Leach’s supporting staff saw more turnover this offseason than I initially felt comfortable with. But after a week in Lewiston, I liked what I saw from all first-year coaches with the program. Matt Brock, the special teams and outside linebackers coach, particularly stands out.
Brock previously served as the special teams coordinator at Bowling Green where his unit lead the nation for kickoff defense.
He comes to Washington State with more than just a healthy resume; his love for football is infectious. “He’s passionate for the game. He wants us to do the best we can,” explained linebacker Dillion Sherman.
Time and time again, I see Brock step on the field and physically demonstrate to a player the proper execution of a play. He takes command of his unit and it appears that the players respond to him well.
“High energy. I enjoy it and I love the game,” said Brock of his coaching style. “Football is a game of energy and excitement. If you don’t coach that way, I think it’s hard to ask players to play that way. Of course, that’s just my personal opinion.”
As a whole, practice is running at a good tempo. Players have little down time and are always on the move. With an occasional skirmish keeping intensity high and competition raw, this roster has not shown any lack of effort from my assessment.
With 18 practices left before traveling to Wyoming, the Cougs pack it up and return to Pullman for the remainder of camp.
Gear up Cougs, because CFS is right around the corner.