QB battle looms as Cougars open spring practice

SPOKANE — A quarterback battle looms as Washington State opens spring football drills today.

Veteran Connor Halliday was a part-time starter last year, along with the graduated Jeff Tuel. Head coach Mike Leach said Halliday will face a challenge from redshirt freshman Austin Apodaca.

“Both are hard-working guys and competitive,” Leach said. “They both have some talent and both are getting better.”

Halliday appeared in nine games last year, throwing for 1,874 yards with 15 touchdowns. But he also threw 13 interceptions, a situation that got him yanked from some games.

Leach said Halliday has a slightly stronger arm than Apodaca, a 6-foot-3, 191-pounder from Longmont, Colo.

The quarterbacks will start splitting repetitions equally, and then if one starts to take control the split will go to two-thirds and one-third as the spring progresses.

“We want somebody to secure and lockdown the position,” Leach said.

No other quarterback is likely to be in the mix, he said.

Leach returns eight starters on offense and defense this season. But he said Wednesday that all the starting jobs are open in the spring.

“All positions are up for grabs,” Leach said.

In all, the Cougars have 43 returning letter winners from a team that finished 3-8 overall, 1-8 in the Pac-12 in Leach’s first season in Pullman. It was his first losing season as a head coach. Their only league win was over archrival Washington in overtime in the Apple Cup.

Spring drills will include 15 practices and run until April 23. The annual Crimson and Gray scrimmage will be April 20 in Spokane.

One player who won’t be back is wide receiver Marquess Wilson, the leading receiver in WSU history. Wilson quit the team late last season, and issued a statement accusing the coaching staff of physical and mental abuse. Wilson almost immediately recanted the accusations, but the university and the Pac-12 conducted separate investigations into the allegations. Both cleared Leach and his coaches of any wrong-doing.

Wilson would have been a senior this year.

Most of the other top receivers from last year are back, including Brett Bartolone, Gabe Marks, Isiah Myers and Dominique Williams.

“I think our receivers have improved,” Leach said.

Both the offensive and defensive lines remain a concern.

“I’d like to be bigger, stronger and older,” Leach said. “We are awfully young up there.”

Center Elliott Bosch, an All-Pac-12 honorable mention, is back. Defensively, the Cougars return award winners Deone Bucannon at safety, Xavier Cooper on the line and linebackers Cyrus Coen and Darryl Monroe.

Leach declined to predict if any of the 20 freshmen he signed this season will play right away.

“I’ve been wrong about that more than any other item I’ve been wrong about,” Leach said. “It’s like betting on quarterhorses or something.”

Leach said it is difficult in this age of modern communications to disconnect from football in the off-season. He did spend some time with his kids and went skiing for five days at Schweitzer Mountain near Sandpoint, Idaho.

“The snow was bad but it was good to be out skiing,” Leach said.

More in Sports

Seahawks, Rams play with ‘special’ edge

Both teams have traditionally featured some of the best special-teams play in the NFL.

McGrath: A look at the ‘best’ of bowl season

The college football bowl season kicks off Saturday with six games.

Several Seahawks fined by NFL: Ifedi is docked $24,000

Sheldon Richardson and Quinton Jefferson were both fined $9,115 for unnecessary roughness penalties.

There’s more to successful hockey than scoring goals

Everett winger Bryce Kindopp has been quietly contributing in many ways to the team’s success.

Seahawks sticking behind kicker Walsh despite struggles

Coach Pete Carroll says ‘He’s our guy,’ and the former Viking says he’s still as confident as ever.

A look at how the Huskies built their strength at linebacker

Tevis Bartlett, Keishawn Bierria and Ben Burr-Kirven all took different paths to starting roles with UW.

UW men’s basketball to retire Tacoma native Thomas’ No. 2 jersey

The NBA All-Star will be honored in Seattle during the Huskies’ Feb. 15 game against Utah.

Thursday’s prep results, with links to recaps

Here are Thursday’s prep sports results, with links to recaps: BOYS BASKETBALL… Continue reading

POLL RESULTS: The NHL has your hockey support

Responders are prepared to support a Seattle NHL team, perhaps at the expense of the Silvertips.

Most Read