Sometimes it’s about what you see, not so much what coach is telling you, or not telling you. For example Mike Leach is the master at the vague answer when asked about how his team is progressing. He does it to keep his kids hungry and competitive, on edge and maybe even looking over their shoulder from time to time. The idea is to make his kids work to earn their spots every day and to never be satisfied with being ‘good enough’.
Another example would be the Mike Leach injury report. It looks like a doctors note quoting a “clean bill of health” to the entire football team. If you ask him about it (which is becoming pure idiocy at this point) you’ll get the adage “Well, he’s doing exactly what we want him to do,” which basically encompasses getting healthy at whatever rate it takes to get healthy, from whichever injury one may or may not have suffered. Confusing right? I guess to his credit he never specifically says that his players’ not injured… Oh wait, yeah he might give you that one too. Heck the player could be in street clothes on crutches and Leach will say “I think he’s faster now than he was before.” I mean really, it’s somewhat comical.
When describing his team, “Inconsistent” is the favorite word, I think he’ll use that every practice from here to eternity. It’s probably not unfair to say that, because that’s what practices are about. At the same time he does single an elite few out as consistent. Those the likes of Gabe Marks, Joe Dahl, Elliot Bosch, Deone Bucannon and Darryl Monroe have drawn the praises this Spring, but often the entire team and generally every position get the dreaded “inconsistent” label on a daily basis.
Speaking of that, it’s generally a heated battle at every position going on in camp to this point, with some being more challenging than others. The concept of ‘open competition’ breeds opportunity and an edge for most kids that would otherwise be accepting of a backup role. It helps the team grow and generally prepares role players for a starting role should they need to be called upon down the road.
But for most football teams, it doesn’t work like that for the quarterback position. You generally want your one leader to be just that, without question and above reproach. Even if there is a bit of a competition going on a good amount of coaches like their QB to make a connection with the team as its’ one leader, so they’ll name a starter early and until he drops the ball the team rolls on his shoulders, good or bad.
But Leach has stayed impenetrable in his crusade to make his junior signal caller earn every bit of the starting spot for not only the Spring, but likely the Fall as well. It’s not an approach most coaches would be willing to take, because the reps are so important, but Leach wants quality over quantity when it comes to his quarterback.
Nov. 10, 2012; Pullman, WA, USA; Washington State Cougars quarterback Connor Holliday (12) waits for the snap against the UCLA Bruins during the first half at Martin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: James Snook-USA TODAY Sports
As the Spring has worn on, Connor Halliday has accumulated more reps with the first team, but Austin Apodaca has been droning along, improving daily in his understanding of the offense and his responsibility in it. This has led to a split between the Cougar faithful in their belief that Halliday is really the guy for the job. Some are even saying that the “battle is just beginning” between the two offensive generals, but I don’t believe it. In fact I think it could be almost over, realistically.
Apodaca has taken increased advantage of his athleticism from time to time and is making more progress in his ability to read the defense, but is still making multiple mistakes per practice. Until Tuesday, when he accounted for 4 scoring drives, including two 15 yard TD tosses and no interceptions on the day.
But Halliday proved up to the challenge, throwing for two scores of his own and avoiding turnovers yet again this Spring. As a matter of fact, it has become somewhat rare to see Halliday turn it over lately, which is a huge turnaround from early in Spring and the well documented 2012 campaign. Even though most wouldn’t consider the Cougar defense to be overly impressive taking the ball away, it still says something that you can keep the ball safe when logging close to 2/3 of the practice reps. Speaking of which, Leach had something to say on his incumbent quarterbacks’ recent performance after Tuesday’s practice:
"Yeah, he’s getting better at that all the time (decision making within the offense). He didn’t have Spring last year, then he came in late to camp (in the Fall). So yeah, being able to log some reps has been important to him."
While the coach will say that the competition will continue (and even be very good) into the Fall, it’s pretty clear to anybody paying attention to the fluctuation that Halliday is beginning to take full control of the battle, the offense and the team. He got into a spirited exchange earlier this Spring with one of his receivers for dropping too many passes and has been noticeably more vocal during practices, leading to a deeper command of the offense. It’s showing and I think people will see in the Spring game that there really is becoming a significant amount of separation between Halliday and his apparent predecessor. Significant enough, at least, to give him the nod into Summer and Fall workouts.
If Connor continues to study film and improve over the Summer, he may have already wrapped up this competition. Don’t ask Mike Leach though, he’ll say it’s still far from over, that’s his M.O.