When a reporter suggested to Washington State receiver Renard Bell the Cougars’ quarterback race finally had been pared to two candidates, he either refused to take the bait or refused to agree.
“I don’t know if it’s a two-man race or not,” he said Wednesday at Martin Stadium after the Cougars’ 11th preseason practice. “I don’t pay attention to it.”
Then came a pause.
“Is it?” he said.
Well, coach Mike Leach never would publicly admit such a thing. But for the second day in a row, the major reps in skeleton and team periods were almost equally split between Anthony Gordon and Gage Gubrud. For the time being, it seems Trey Tinsley has been ushered aside as Leach takes a closer look at the other two.
The three of them have performed with almost interchangeable efficiency during camp, but Leach has said many times he prefers a clear pecking order at the position, as a means of distributing reps, especially as the season approaches. The Cougars open Aug. 31 at home against New Mexico State.
Leach was asked what Gordon and Gubrud can learn from each other. And just because he answered the question doesn’t mean he agrees it’s a two-horse competition. Typically Leach makes no announcements about his depth chart, leaving the media to make judgments based on reps.
Gordon, the coach said, releases the ball quickly, and Gubrud shows creativity outside the pocket. But neither quarterback happens to be deficient in either of those areas, he added.
Last year’s starter, Gardner Minshew, excelled in both attributes. But he had failed to distance himself at this juncture in 2018 while locked in a similar three-way battle with Gordon and Tinsley.
One thing is relatively clear. Gubrud, the graduate transfer from Eastern Washington who missed spring drills with a leg injury, has made significant strides since camp opened almost two weeks ago.
“We throw the ball a lot,” said Bell, a junior slotback who caught an especially pretty rainbow from Gubrud during team period. “So going through quick-game and routes, and skelly and team every day, we get on a better page (with one another) — just (within) that day.”
If there’s a hint of clarity at the position these days, things are going in the opposite direction at the X receiver spot, where second-year freshman Rodrick Fisher continues to challenge Tay Martin and Calvin Jackson Jr. for a spot in the (generally) two-man rotation.
Fisher first began emerging last week when Leach seemed disgruntled with the practice habits of Martin, the top returning pass-catcher from last year. Then more opportunities popped up during this practice when Jackson was taken off live drills with an apparent physical issue.
Fisher might be the fastest receiver on the team. At the moment, Bell said there’s no question. He’s also looking less oppressed by technical details.
“Like I told Billy (Pospisil, a freshman receiver), play like (you’re in) junior high school — bring that comfortableness back,” Bell said. “So Rod is definitely getting more comfortable with the offense, and playing like he should be playing, how he played in high school, just being fluid within his routes and his cuts, and just knowing the playbook like the back of his hand.”
Also shielded from live drills was starting right guard Josh Watson. Perhaps surprisingly, the most fill-in reps went to sophomore Brian Greene, the backup center who was placed on scholarship this summer. Leach said his progress began just after he arrived on campus as a preferred walk-on two years ago.
“He looked like a promising pass-protector and would sometimes get overpowered,” the coach said. “And then he got better and better.”
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