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NFL TRAINING CAMPS are beginning to get underway across the country — rookies for a handful of teams have already reported with the bulk of the rookies and veterans scheduled to report this coming week. And that means plenty of former Washington State football standouts, from veterans to rookies, are gearing up. For the first time since 2003 a Cougar was drafted by the Seattle Seahawks and some NFL writers believe he has a good chance to start.
Lucas, picked in the third round by the Seahawks with the 72nd overall pick, has a chance to start immediately at right tackle, coach Pete Carroll said last month after watching Lucas in the rookie minicamp.
Ten squads’ rookies have already reported. But the Seahawks and the majority of NFL teams will see both rookies and veterans report this week: the majority of NFL teams’ veterans report on July 26.
We’re still waiting to see if a few Cougs catch on with teams: Undrafted free agent running back Max Borghi signed after the draft with Indianapolis but was soon caught up in the numbers game and was waived. He then competed in the Denver Broncos’ rookie minicamp and while he drew praise from the Broncos’ coaches, he remains unsigned. Linebacker Deone Bucannon, a seven-year pro and 2020 postseason pick-up by Tampa Bay who went on to become a Super Bowl champion, remains a free agent. So does five-year pro and offensive guard Joe Dahl.
There are 10 Cougs who were undrafted free agents looking to make the 53-man rosters, and some are on firmer footing than others. Also, this is the second year for the 17-game regular-season schedule and NFL teams now play three preseason games, giving rookies and those on the bubble one less game setting to make their marks.
And there is also potential trade intrigue: the biggest potential trade talk surrounds Philadelphia QB Gardner Minshew — it’s cooled the closer we’ve gotten to training camp. But it figures to at least simmer all the way to the trade deadline with the Eagles’ coaches slotting Minshew as the clear backup to Jalen Hurts.
Minshew has long been the subject of trade rumors going back to his days in Jacksonville with a favorable cap number and considerable experience. But Philadelphia has held onto him this offseason, even with this being the final year on the four-year, $2.7 million deal he signed as a rookie. He will cost a team $965,000 against the salary cap in 2022, a comparative bargain by any measure.
Minshew is 25, checks in at 6-1, 225 pounds, and has 22 starts and 25 games played over three NFL seasons. He played in only four games last season as Philadelphia’s backup QB after being traded by Jacksonville for a sixth-round pick. One of his appearances in relief of an injured starter Jalen Hurts was a stellar 20 of 25 for 242 yards and 2 TDs in a win over the Jets.
For his NFL career Minshew is 542 of 857 passing (63 percent) for 5,969 yards with 41 TDs against 12 INT. He has a 93.9 QB rating — despite playing mostly behind offensive lines in Jacksonville that resembled human turnstiles.
But Minshew as a starter has a record of 8-14, the argument against Minshew goes. The counter argument is simple: imagine what his record might be if his o-line had been at least credible. There’s zero doubt Minshew will survive the training camp cuts, the only real question is will Philadelphia will trade him and if so, when?
Lucas will battle second-year undrafted free agent Jake Curhan (Cal) for the starting right tackle job. But Lucas looked to hold the edge over Curhan, who started three games for the Seahawks last year, according to the Seattle Times’ Bob Condotta. At Seattle’s minicamp, Lucas ran with the first-string offensive line during the camp, while Curhan was with the second team.
“They’ll be competing to start,” head coach Pete Carroll said recently of Lucas and fellow rookie Charles Cross at Seattle’s two tackle spots. “When they come back to (August training) camp, if they hold their own and they make the right progress, they have a chance to start for us, which is huge, that would be huge. I don’t know that they will, but they’ve got a chance and they give us every indication that they have what it takes to do that to this point.”
Lucas, out of Everett’s Archbishop Murphy High, signed a four-year contract with the Seahawks in May that is believed to value $5.4 million, of which $1.1 million is via the signing bonus. He started 42-straight games for the Cougars and earned All-Pac-12 recognition all four years, including first team honors in 2021.
The Seahawks will open fall camp, for both rookies and veterans, on July 26 at their Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton.
Calvin Jackson Jr. (5-9, 193), was passed over in the draft but got a chance in the New York Jets’ rookie minicamp, often the last shot, and the vast majority of unsigned rookie minicamp participants don’t get signed. Jackson was one of the exceptions. But he still has a tough road to make the team.
The Jets are estimated to go with six wide receivers on the roster and four are seen as safe (Garrett Wilson, Elijah Moore, Corey Davis, Braxton Berrios). Jeff Smith is seen as the frontrunner for the fifth spot leaving Jackson and others to battle it out for the final one. Jackson’s showing as a punt returner in OTA workouts with the Jets could boost his chances.
Fan site Gang Green Nation pegs him as a practice squad candidate. Jackson, meanwhile, on social media this past week said he hasn’t shown his best yet. “Crazy thing is no one has really seen what I’m capable of,” he tweeted. “In due time.”
Jackson was in and out of the Cougars’ lineup at outside receiver between 2018-20, dealing with injuries the last two seasons of that stretch. But this past season, after moving to inside receiver, he excelled. Jackson caught 66 passes for 987 yards and 7 touchdowns, earning All-Pac-12 second team honors.
Related: Calvin Jackson Jr. says late dad guided his last WSU season
Jalen Thompson is penciled in to start for Arizona. He quickly became a mainstay on the Arizona defense and “has turned into a vital piece for the secondary since bouncing back from injuries in 2020. The safety led the team in tackles last season (121) and this season hunts for his first Pro Bowl appearance,” wrote Kevin Parrish Jr., beat writer for the official Cardinals site.
A fifth-round selection in the 2019 supplemental draft, Thompson was a star defender last year and with fellow safety Budda Baker, the duo has an argument as the best safety duo in the NFL. Thompson has been talked about this offseason as one of the players Arizona may want most to lock up with a new contract extension.
Thompson verballed to WSU over UW in the 2016 recruiting class and proceeded to start every game for three season at Washington State. Thompson led the Cougars in tackles in 2017 with 73 stops and was expected to be an honors candidate as a senior and potential early-round draft choice but lost his final year of NCAA eligibility for reportedly using an NCAA-banned over-the-counter supplement. In his three seasons in a Cougar uniform, Thompson racked up 191 tackles. He never redshirted, starting 39 of 39 games.
Frankie Luvu, The Boa from Samoa, started four games at Carolina this past season and might be in line for more this campaign. On a one-year deal at $1.1 million, Luvu racked up 1 1/2 sacks, a blocked punt, a forced fumble and three fumble recoveries, the third most in a single season in franchise history. The Panthers in turn showed Luvu the love this offseason by re-signing him to a two-year contract worth $9 million, including $4.5 million guaranteed. His teammates last season also appreciated how he got everyone fired up when he breaks out a traditional Samoan war chant.
The 6-3, 235-pound linebacker spent the first three seasons of his NFL playing days with the Jets, coming in as an undrafted free agent who would up appearing in 40 games and making four starts. The 25-year-old was a tweener his first three seasons at WSU but really found his stride as a senior in coming off the edge.
Now, he’s part of an undervalued linebackers corps at Carolina. PFF analyst Seth Galina recently wrote, “Shaq Thompson is a bona fide star, and he may be playing alongside a diamond-in-the-rough partner in Frankie Luvu. One of the five highest-graded linebackers last season in his first year with Carolina, Luvu is another ‘Demario Davis trajectory’ candidate.”
The offseason trade talk surrounding Andre Dillard has been considerable. The No. 22 overall pick in the 2019 draft, he was thought destined for the starting job at left tackle but his progression took a serious hit when he missed all of 2020 with a biceps injury. This past season, he served mostly as a backup.
“Dillard is probably on his last legs in Philadelphia this season, Nick Faria of phillysportsnetwork.com wrote recently. “Following the former first round pick losing the starting position battle to Jordan Mailata, Dillard has been labeled as a bust over the last couple of years. While he did play well in parts last season when Lane Johnson was hurt, Dillard’s inability to get a starting job in Philadelphia is a major issue for the Eagles and the left tackle. His inability to switch to right tackle also doesn’t leave much room for cross training either.”
But as Yahoo’s Glenn Erby points out, Dillard is a lock to make the roster if he isn’t traded and in terms of backups, Dillard rates high. “Solid left tackles are hard to find, and Dillard makes the list as the top backup at his position in the NFL,” writes Erby.
Wideout Dezmon Patmon might be ready to fly this year. Mostly a deep reserve with the Indianapolis Colts the last two seasons, the 6-4, 225-pounder could be positioning himself for a key role with the team in 2022. In minicamp in June he was “seeing action with the first-team offense” behind the team’s established top three receivers — Michael Pittman Jr., Alec Pierce and Parris Campbell— wrote the Indianapolis Star’s Nate Atkins. “Patmon appears to have as good of a shot as any to be the Colts’ No. 4 receiver,” he wrote, noting that Patmon is running routes with “newfound precision.”
That said, the receiving corps in training camp figures to be a heckuva battle and Patmon will have to beat out others to make the team and claim his playing role. “Now that he is entering his third season in the league, it is a make-or-break season for Patmon. He will have to earn his spot on the roster and can carve a spot in the game plan with an impressive preseason,” wrote Coltswire’s Cody Manning.
Patmon was at Washington State from 2016-19. He caught 156 passes for 1,976 yards and 13 TDs. He was taken by the Colts in the sixth round of the 2020 NFL draft.
River Cracraft has new home, going from the NFC West to the AFC East, for the 2021 NFL season. After spending time with the 49ers the past two years, and the Denver Broncos in 2018 and 2019, plus also a brief stint with the Eagles practice squad, the ol’ Coug is hoping to find a permanent home in the Miami area. It may seem hard to believe but Cracraft is still only 27-years-old.
A receiver and return man, Cracraft is the final wide receiver listed by the Miami Herald in its six-man WR projection of who will make the roster after training camp cuts. Cracraft has an edge, the paper says, because of his special teams ability and prior knowledge of Mike McDaniel’s offense in San Francisco.
At Washington State, Cracraft played in 41 games with 35 starts in a career marked by injury. He was on pace to finish his Washington State career in the top 10 in Pac-12 history when he tore his ACL his senior season with three games left. He missed three games his sophomore and junior campaigns: he never played a full season after his true freshman season. Still, he recorded 218 receptions (No. 2 in school history behind Gabe Marks), for 2,701 receiving yards (6th) and 20 touchdowns (6th), despite all the missed time.
Easop Winston Jr., part of the impressive City College of San Francisco pipeline to Washington State, played in three games for the Saints in 2021 with one reception. New Orleans is loaded with receivers on the depth chart, but Winston has A) looked good this summer according to various reports and 2) turned heads last year during the rookie minicamp and OTAs and earned his spot. He spent the 2020 preseason with the Los Angeles Rams, coming to the NFL as an undrafted free agent.
In his two-year career at Washington State, he amassed 137 receptions for 1,624 yards with 19 touchdowns.
FROM THE CF.C ARCHIVES … PULLMAN — The broad storylines — that Washington State is now one win away from bowl eligibility for a fifth-straight year, the WSU defense bending mightily but not breaking, and the Cougars mastering Stanford for a fourth-straight time — will overshadow another angle from Saturday’s proceedings in Pullman that speaks to the beauty of college sports. Easop Winston Jr., a WSU fifth-year senior from the Bay Area who nobody wanted out of high school and only two schools — WSU and Eastern Michigan — wanted out of junior college, turned his second-to-last game in Martin Stadium into an exclamation point on the notion of never giving up. Click here for the full story.
Daniel Ekuale spent most of last year on the New England Patriots’ practice squad but was regularly elevated, and he could see the same thing happen this year. However, he’s been suspended the first two games of the season per ESPN reports. No reason was given for the suspension. He can remain with the team up until the first week of the regular season and the official patriots.com site said his suspension is “something that might actually help his roster chances” though it doesn’t expand why.
The 29-year-old Ekuale was the Pats’ most elevated player from the practice squad this past season, playing in seven regular season games and the playoff game. During the regular season, he recorded five tackles including two sacks on 99 defensive snaps in rotation.
Over his NFL career, he has played in 23 regular season NFL games and has posted 22 tackles and three sacks. Before New England, Ekuale spent the past two years in the Jacksonville organization. He began his NFL career as an undrafted free agent in 2018 with the Cleveland Browns and played two seasons with the Browns. Ekuale at WSU played both defensive tackle and nose tackle, excelling particularly at the latter as a senior.
Liam Ryan signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Seahawks this offseason and is expected to fit in at guard, the position he first played at WSU before necessity required him to move to tackle. Ryan is more naturally suited for guard and besides, Seattle drafted two tackles in the first 75 picks including Wazzu teammate Abe Lucas.
The 6-5, 305-pounder is currently seen by media as the 11th man on the offensive line so he has lots of work to do to change that perception. A banner job in run blocking would accomplish that as Ryan, a four-year starter for the Cougs, played 75 percent of his 2,951 snaps coming as a pass protector per Pro Football Focus.
According to Tyler Forness of allseahawks.com, Ryan’s best-case scenario would be for his versatility and technique to shine through early in camp and often see snaps at guard and tackle. Currently sitting on the third team, those opportunities likely won’t be plentiful, but taking advantage of them could land him a spot on the practice squad as a developmental player. Forness’ worst-case scenario says his limited upside and athleticism have the odds against hm to make the team or practice squad.
Travell Harris signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Cleveland Browns and he might not have been able to pick a better wide receiver situation. Cleveland’s No. 1 receiver is set with Amari Cooper but everything else is up for grabs. That includes the slot and the backups. The two favorites coming into training camp on the inside are third-round draft picks from this year and last. The 5-8, 182-pound Harris still has an uphill climb, but if he catches lightning in a bottle this August, he could make some noise on into the fall. And his special teams skills could be what clinch a spot on the Cleveland roster.
Known for having a great burst, Harris played in 40 games at Washington State and offensively posted 179 receptions, No. 9 in WSU history. He went out with a bang, with 76 receptions in his final season; No. 10 in WSU single-season history. And he racked up 4,253 all-purpose yards — third-most in WSU history behind Steve Broussard and Rueben Mayes. He was named All-Pac-12 honorable mention as a kick returner in 2018, AP All-Pac-12 second team as a kick returner in 2019, and All-Pac-12 honorable mention in 2020. He arrived at WSU in 2017 out of Tampa, choosing Wazzu over Arizona, Missouri, Purdue and others.
Anthony Gordon re-signed with Kansas City this spring. This past year with the Chiefs he competed with Shane Buechele for a spot on the roster/practice squad but lost the battle and was waived in the cut down to 80. It’s interesting the Chiefs re-signed Gordon with Buechele clearly of high interest to the Chiefs (last season Buechele was elevated late in the year to the official roster to keep him away from being signed by other teams).
What Gordon’s re-signing could signify is Chad Henne’s time as the No. 2 QB behind Patrick Mahomes might be coming to an end after this season. Henne is 37 and the Chiefs might like either Gordon or Buechele as the new backup, and the other as the developing QB on the practice squad.
Gordon was seen to be at a disadvantage in coming from Mike Leach’s Air Raid offense because the offensive playbook is as brief as can be and the Chiefs’ is voluminous. But Gordon showed he could read defenses well and throw with good anticipation in leading his receivers. He showed pocket awareness and his mistakes were few enough the Chiefs signed him again.
Gordon put up video game-type numbers for Wazzu as a senior in 2019, throwing for 5,579 yards and 48 touchdowns in the Cougs’ 6-7 campaign.
Daniel Isom, now just going by Dan on the Rams’ roster, misses the final roster but could also be one of the training camp surprise contributors, RamsWire’s Cameron DaSilva said this offseason. The safety room got really crowded this offseason after the Rams drafted two players and added Isom and others via undrafted free agent signings. The official site for the Rams lists him at 6-0, 194 pounds.
As a Coug, he registered 119 tackles, six pass breakups, four forced fumbles and one interception in 23 games across three seasons at Washington State. Prior to WSU, he played at Iowa Western Community College for one year after beginning his college career at Northern Illinois. When Mike Leach booted Isom from the team in 2019, he could have packed up and sought out a new start. In fact, that’s what most expected he would do. But when Leach departed, Isom was invited back by the new staff and he essentially played wherever the coaches asked him to — he was the starting strong safety for most of this season, but also started at nickel when Armani Marsh was injured, and started at free safety; his most natural position. He was a selfless, committed player for the Cougs and is the kind of NFL underdog worth rooting for.
The most surprising Coug in an NFL training camp? It has to be Jarrett Guarantano, who signed an undrafted free agent contract with the Arizona Cardinals. It’s not that Guarantano isn’t talented. But how many second-stringers who barely play their senior years get NFL training camp invites, particularly quarterbacks?
It should be noted Guarantano (6-3, 219), did beat out Jayden de Laura at the end of fall camp last year. But he was injured early in the opener and although de Laura missed a game with injury, Guarantano never seriously challenged the rest of the season. His numbers at Tennessee were also substantial: 41 career games for the Vols, with 32 starts, going 494 of 808 passing (61.1 percent) for 6,174 yards, with 38 touchdowns against 17 interceptions — while playing for two different head coaches, four different offensive coordinators and four different position coaches — before arriving at WSU as a grad transfer.
Still, Guarantano will get his shot and that’s what matters most. Kyler Murray and Colt McCoy are locks, with Guarantano battling Trace McSorley for the No. 3 job. Head coach Kliff Kingsbury has been reportedly impressed with Guarantano’s accuracy and arm strength. But McSorley, who has some in-game experience, comes in with the edge.
NOTABLE NOTE: Two former Cougs who didn’t finish their college careers at Wazzu, WR Tay Martin and safety Skyler Thomas, signed UDFA deals with the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers, respectively.
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