PULLMAN — Mike Leach makes it clear that he’s nowhere near satisfied with the depth of his Washington State football team. Developing that depth — or “manufacturing experience,” as the coach called it once Wednesday while speaking with reporters — continues to be a priority.
“Our first level guys I feel pretty good about, but by the same token you want to get enough reps to get guys established so they’re comfortable with what they’re doing,” Leach said. “… We need depth pretty much everywhere.”
And they need it quite badly across the defensive front seven, thanks to Leach’s low-tolerance policy for team rules violations.
Three potential starters have been sent packing in the eight months since Leach has been coach. Linebacker C.J. Mizell, perhaps the program’s most athletically gifted player, was booted after an alleged altercation at a fraternity party earlier this year. Sekope Kaufusi, another experienced linebacker, was arrested for allegedly possessing marijuana — a charge that was later dropped — and he subsequently was dismissed from the team.
The most recent transgression — an alleged theft of a pair of headphones from Walmart by defensive tackle Anthony Laurenzi — resulted in yet another dismissal.
The result: more inexperience in the linebacker corps than expected, and a thin depth chart across the defensive line as the Cougars begin preseason practices this afternoon.
Leach said he’s never wavered when it comes to sticking to his rules and policies. The three cardinal sins in his program have been noted repeatedly by its observers — no stealing, no abusing women, no drug use.
And while the evaluation process is “simple” when it comes to discipline, Leach says, he still feels a sense of failure when those rules are violated.
“Now these guys, I didn’t know as well, but obviously there’s going to be a time where I’ve been here three years and I’m going to cut somebody and of course the thing is, ‘what could I have done differently? How could I have saved them? Why couldn’t I reach this guy? How did the message get clouded?” Leach said. “Unless you feel responsibility as a coach, you’re never going to improve and develop your ability to be as good as you can be.
“It becomes difficult because you see talent walk out the door. But you know … if you have a problem with somebody’s behavior, the first thing is, ‘Can I change it?’ Well, if you can’t change it, then can you tolerate it? Are you able to tolerate it? And if you can’t tolerate it, then you’ve got to get rid of them.”
So he did, and there may be a swath of newcomers with a chance to carve out playing time this season because of it. Junior-college transfer Ioane Gauta and freshman Robert Barber could add depth to the nose tackle position.
A class of freshman linebackers who received positive reviews from most outlets — highlighted perhaps by Jeremiah Allison, a Los Angeles product — might compete for spots on the two-deep, as well.
Other highly rated players making their Cougar practice debuts today include receiver Gabriel Marks, offensive lineman Niu Sale and safety Taylor Taliulu.
Everyone will at least get a look, Leach said, though any freshmen who don’t make the two-deep likely will redshirt.
“I think anybody’s got potential to play right away,” Leach said. “Obviously, the new guys, it’s going to take a few days to evaluate what they can do. … So especially with the new guys for about a week and a half, there’s certainly a spring football quality to it as you’re kind of sifting through what their capabilities are. From there, you’re trying to plug it in as quickly as possible.”
Leach said he couldn’t comment on a Los Angeles Times report that cornerback Raymond Ford has signed with WSU. … A starting quarterback likely will be determined within the first week or so of practice, Leach said. Jeff Tuel is considered the frontrunner.