They'll never admit it, but they made each other better.
The Cougs are entering their final week of preparations on the Palouse and coach Leach has closed practices as he fine tunes his team for the much anticipated opener against BYU. After over 250 days of anticipation, speculation and consternation, we are finally starting to get an idea of the team that will take the field on August 30th in Provo. everyone from Cougfan, to Christian Capel and our own Lucas have chimed in with their takes on the unfolding position battles. Since I haven’t been able to take in the practices myself this year, I am relying on all these excellent reports to form my impressions of Fall camp. So what is my take on things so far? You gotta jump to find out...
On a recent trip to Pullman I took my own turn in the "Leach Beach".
Last year I wrote about the difference it made that, for the first time in the Wulff era, guys were forced to compete and win their position battles, rather than just have a starting job fall into their lap through attrition. Position battles have heated up even more this year, and the new coaches have made it clear that there is no such thing as an entrenched starter. As we enter the final week before BYU a couple of these battles seem to be approaching a surprising conclusion. Former walk-on Mathew Bock is still holding down his spot with the #1 defensive line and freshman safety Taylor Taliulu has moved ahead of Tyree Toomer, Casey Locker and Anthony Carpenter at safety. While its possible that Bock is simply holding down a spot while guys like Coerper, Clayton and Paulo get back in the mix, there is no doubt that Taliulu has moved ahead of a slough of guys who are actually healthy and out there competing against him every day. But I am interested today in recognizing the guys who, while they may not have won their position battles, gave the presumed starter ahead of them all they could handle to hang onto their job. Whatever strides this team makes this season, these guys deserve a ton of credit for making this team better and more than a few of them are going to get rewarded for their work with lots of minutes as reserves and special teams players. Lets give a few shout outs:
Connor Halliday - After missing almost the entire Spring, it was really impressive that Halliday came in and challenged Tuel the way he did this summer. This competition can only have made both of them better and that is great news for Coug fans.
Justin Sagote - Not only does Sagote bring solid depth to the Hair portion of the Hair Raid defense, but he also has given Chester Sua all he could handle to hang onto his starting linebacker spot. Sua is an exciting talent, but having Sagote there breathing down his neck, forcing him to add a whole other level of effort and focus to his game is a very good thing for the future of this defense.
Brett Bartolone - While this battle remains up in the air, there is a growing consensus that Simone will be the starter come August 30. If so, he’ll have earned it thanks in no small part to true frosh Brett Bartolone who pushed not only Simone at the H wide receiver spot, but also some guys named Bobby Ratliff, Blair Bomber and Bennet Bontemps. Raise your hand if you saw that coming?
Jake Rogers - Known mostly for his famous hair, the sophomore from Spokane has been pressing not just one, but two redshirt seniors for their starting jobs on the O-line. If either Wade Jacobson or Dan Spitz slips up, this could be the year that Rogers secures a starting job and hangs onto it through the 2014 season.
Whether they are lining up for the first snap on August 30, or not, these guys deserve a lot of credit for making this team better.
Another interesting development to come out of this camp, is a group of players who are being used, for lack of a better term, as wild cards... filling in wherever and whenever these coaches think they can contribute.
Leach has said over and over he wants his best 11 guys on the field, and he is willing to go to some creative lengths to achieve that. Perhaps most notable in this camp, is the move of Ricky Galvin from running back to inside receiver. Notable not only because Galvin was running as the #1 running back, but also because he is in many ways the opposite of the guy who has locked down the starting job at his new position, Andre Lintz. Lintz poses a matchup nightmare for a defense with his size and strength, while Galvin is small and quick with potential to break huge plays when given just a little bit of space. Clearly coach Leach thinks there is more than one way to hurt a defense from the inside receiver spot. Over on the defensive side of the ball Logan Mayes has been backing up Travis Long at buck linebacker and also getting involved in the D-line rotation at end when we flash a four man front. Even more interesting is how safeties Casey Locker and Tyrone Duckett have been moved around as extra bodies in the secondary and we even saw Duckett play some linebacker in the Spring game.
What does it all mean? Right now it is still a bit confusing how this will all shake out, but if it’s confusing for us, it is for BYU as well. I don’t mind that one bit.