At some point late last season, Gardner Minshew expressed the philosophy that preseason quarterback competitions are essentially decided by teammates — that a candidate for a starter’s job needs to impress other players in order to impress the coach.
Mike Leach says it’s a little more complicated than that. But whatever was going through Minshew’s mind a year ago, the Washington State boss approves.
Part of Minshew’s astonishing success as a one-and-done senior Cougar QB in 2019 can be attributed to his keen, quickly established rapport with teammates during summer workouts and preseason camp.
Now another graduate transfer will try to duplicate the feat, competing with an almost identical cast of contenders who no doubt learned a thing or two from their close observation of Minshew’s magic.
Gage Gubrud, the senior from Eastern Washington who once orchestrated an upset win over the Cougars, enters preseason camp as co-favorite for the starter’s role with veterans Anthony Gordon and Trey Tinsley — the same duo that Minshew eventually bested last August.
The Cougars will practice at 2 p.m. today in Pullman before heading to their their annual hardscrabble retreat in Lewiston, where they will work out daily Saturday through Thursday at Sacajawea Junior High, all at 2 p.m.
A couple of weeks before the Cougars capped an 11-2 season with a win over Iowa State in the Alamo Bowl last December, Minshew was asked to handicap the race for the starter’s job in his absence in 2019.
“The biggest thing is, who’s going to take control? — you know, win the team,” he said. “That’s one of those things I’ve always said. The team selects the starter. The coaches don’t select it. It kind of works itself out.”
Leach doesn’t heartily disagree. But don’t expect him to pass out ballots.
“A little bit – I don’t think that’s the whole picture,” the eighth-year WSU coach said Thursday when asked if he agreed with Minshew’s characterization. “Gardner, by describing it that way – and I did think it was quite impressive – has always been very flattered and honored by the way the team accepted and embraced him, which they did. But with that said, he earned a significant portion of that (through his play).
“I also think the team is going to accept and play for whoever they think is doing a good job. Last year I felt like we had three guys like that. But I did feel like Gardner did a good job of leading the unit, then continued to get better as the season went on.”
In terms of repetitions in camp, Leach said he will follow a script similar to last year’s, in which he foregrounded two quarterbacks each day and, over the course of several practices, spread the reps almost evenly among the top three.
Also similar will be the QBs’ experience levels. Gubrud boasts far more game-day seasoning. But Gordon and Tinsley are more familiar with the tendencies of Wazzu receivers, especially since Gubrud missed spring workouts with a lower-leg injury.
Those receivers, in any case, will be a boon to all the triggermen. Eight of the team’s top 10 pass-catchers are back, led statistically by towering outside receivers Tay Martin (69 catches last year) and Dezmon Patmon (61).
Depth at running back is a possible concern, not only because James Williams forfeited his senior season to turn pro but because the top true-freshman RB, Jamir Thomas, is apparently out of the mix because of academics. But Max Borghi returns from a dynamic frosh campaign and the Cougs added ex-Notre Dame back Deon McIntosh.
Elsewhere, the personnel losses are relatively few, but they’re significant.
The only starter missing from last year’s offensive line, for example, is a first-round NFL draft choice, Andre Dillard. The only notable loss at linebacker is a Cougar icon, Peyton Pelluer.
And one of the club’s best defenders of recent years, safety Jalen Thompson, lost his final year of eligibility in June because of an NCAA violation. That was a harsh blow to the Cougars, who had already bid farewell to 2019 senior cornerbacks Darrien Molton and Sean Harper Jr.
With Leach saying Thursday he’s fairly committed to the conversion of Skyler Thomas from safety to nickelback, Thompson’s departure means the Cougars will probably have three new starters on the back end.
In early first-unit drills, maybe all those QB candidates will be getting kudos from their mates.