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Spokane and Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday ended his prolific career, retiring from football just before Washington started its rookie minicamp.
In other news…
— The NCAA men's basketball rules committee proposed a number of rule changes yesterday, which we covered here.
— Joe Pistorese threw a gem to lead the WSU baseball team past Arizona State.
— A pair of Wildcats faced off for the first time as pros at the NBA combine in Chicago.
— Arizona State signed a late addition to its 2015 recruiting class.
— Oregon's basketball team just secured a commitment to play from the top junior college recruit in the country.
— A Stanford safety may skip his senior season to pursue a professional baseball career.
— The Pac-12 Blog examines who from the conference could be a Heisman Candidate next season.
The Cincinnati Bengals will hold their opening meeting of rookie minicamp tonight and Kalafitoni Polè will be in the room.
The former Washington State defensive tackle went undrafted, but still has a shot to make an NFL team. Rookie minicamp is the first step and, while the focus will be on the drafted players, if Polè can impress the coaches, perhaps he can score an invite to training camp in the fall.
Quarterback Connor Halliday will be hoping for the same thing for himself at Washington's training camp next week.
Now for some links:
— In the paper yesterday we had a feature on WSU's closer, Ian Hamilton.
— ESPN's Kyle Bonagura looks back at the draft's early entrants from the Pac-12 and says Xavier Cooper's decision to leave WSU early was a good one.
— CougCenter asks where WSU should rank in the post-spring Pac-12 Power Rankings.
— Utah's Dres Anderson will try to make the 49ers roster after not getting drafted.
— California's exceptional basketball recruiting class is changing expectations for the team next season.
It was a banner night for the Pac-12, which had a record nine players selected in the first round of the NFL draft.
Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota was the first west coast player selected; the reigning Heisman Trophy winner was taken second overall by the Tennessee Titans. Then, the Jets selected USC's Leonard Williams with the sixth pick in the draft.
The Huskies had three players selected: Danny Shelton (12th pick, Browns), Shaq Thompson (25th, Panthers) and dismissed cornerback Marcus Peters (18th, Chiefs).
Arik Armstead was the third defensive lineman selected from the Pac-12, going to San Francisco as the 17th selection, while Stanford's Andrus Peat, taken by New Orleans with pick No. 13, was the only offensive lineman.
USC's Nelson Agholor will team up with Chip Kelly in Philadelphia and Arizona State's Damarious Randall rounded out the conference's big day, going to Green Bay with the 30th pick.
Washington State might get in on the action today. The NFL draft will continue with the second and third rounds, and some mock drafts have Xavier Cooper getting selected in that range.
Ted Miller wrote about WSU quarterback Luke Falk on the Pac-12 Blog.
Soon to be graduated Washington State linebacker Mitch Peterson was named to the National Football Foundation's Hampshire Honor Society.
The society is made up of college football players from all divisions that are significant contributors to their teams and maintain a cumulative GPA of 3.2 or better throughout their time in school. Peterson was a two-year letter-winner at WSU and appeared in 19 games, making one start.
A native of Spokane, Peterson was named to the Pac-12 All-Academic First Team this past season and his father tells me he is about to graduate magna cum laude with a Masters in Business Administration. Here is the full release from the school.
At noon today we'll be holding a live chat to answer any remaining questions from spring football.
Now for some links …
— In today's paper we wrapped up our coverage of WSU's spring football with a look ahead to the team's offseason plans.
— We also have our coverage of the last day of the Pac-12 golf championships.
— Connor Halliday's mom wrote a first-person account of her experience watching Halliday play for Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning Quarterback.
— The Pac-12 has revamping the way it trains officials and holds them accountable.
— Washington signed a highly-regarded basketball recruit out of New Zealand.
— Down the road, way down the road, Utah is going to play Baylor, probably.
— Mike Leach says the Cougars will hold some satellite camps for recruiting in California this summer. This explains what those are.
— UCLA's star freshman quarterback is rising up the depth chart.
Dom Williams and Led Falk led the Crimson team to a 31-29 victory over Gray in the 2015 WSU Crimson and Gray game on Saturday.
It was a good day for the basketball program, as well, as Ernie Kent and the Cougars added a post player that can contribute immediately.
Washington State's spring football season won't culminate with tomorrow's 2 p.m. game at Joe Albi Stadium.
The Cougars, after all, still have practice on Tuesday. But it will be the last chance to see the team really do much until the start of the 2015 season. Vince Grippi is a curmudgeon who would rather spend his time painting a fence or something, but I hear parking is free if you're inclined to watch some football on Saturday.
WSU will split into two teams, Crimson and Gray, and Crimson already has bragging rights. That's because they won yesterday's practice. Here is the usual video of Mike Leach speaking after practice and a fun video of Dom Williams answering five questions.
In the paper today we have a story about Peyton Pelluer, who has played well at Mike linebacker this spring. … Jeff Nusser of CougCenter took a closer look at the Crimson and Gray rosters. … Gregg Bell of the Tacoma News Tribune profiled Xavier Cooper in today's paper. … Here is an update on Washington's quarterback competition. … Former Evergreen prep quarterback Max Browne is waiting his turn at USC.
Joe Dahl, Gunnar Eklund, Riley Sorenson, Eduardo Middleton and Cole Madison. Those names ring a bell? If not, you must not have watched any WSU football last season.
Washington State returns all five starters off last year's offensive line. OK, that's cheating because Jacob Seydel and Sam Flor each got a few starts as well. Oh, they're back too. So, offensive line coach Clay McGuire hasn't had to learn new names this spring and the Cougars are as experienced as anybody at the position where experience is most important.
I wrote about WSU's veteran offensive line in the story for today's paper. Before practice yesterday we held a live chat here on the blog. Don't worry if you missed it, we've got the whole thing transcribed here. After practice I wrote up this report detailing what I saw.
A high school teammate of former WSU cornerback Daquawn Brown tweeted that he's headed to Fresno State. … Utah had a tumultuous offseason, but has enough going right to get past it. … The UW basketball team had three players transfer out. Now, guys are transferring in.
Washington State is hosting this year's Pac-12 golf championships next week and today is media day. That means I (plus Jim Meehan and the Grippi clan, for some reason) will be at Palouse Ridge today to make sure the course's greens are suitably filled with divots and ponds jam-packed with golf balls. Or maybe they'll just make me caddy.
So, we'll hold our live chat at noon tomorrow here on SportsLink and you can fire away with questions about WSU's spring practices and Saturday's Crimson and Gray Game.
Until then, here are some links:
— Already one SportsLink commenter has turned that experience into a gig with CougCenter, and you could be next.
— The WSU baseball team ended its nine-game homestand with seven wins.
— The Pac-12 has a couple representatives on this list of the top football coaches under 50.
— One of UCLA's top football recruits was arrested for trying to evade police.
— Utah's Hunter Dimick can't be a sidekick anymore.
Peyton Bender has been slowly closing the gap on Luke Falk during spring practices, and he all but obliterated it with an onslaught of aerial touchdowns during yesterday's scrimmage.
In case you're wondering how the other position battles are shaping up, I put together my projected two-deep depth chart for next season.
Leach also shared his thought on the various scoring systems for spring games. He, uh, likes to keep it old school.
In other WSU news, Jason La Canfora likes Connor Halliday's chances in the upcoming NFL draft and Tom Fornelli says WSU is paying Leach too much per win. The NBA Playoffs started yesterday and Klay Thompson and the Golden State Warriors are favorites. Here is a story about Thompson.
The Washington State Cougars are now two-thirds of the way through spring football practices and while there is still movement among the first, second and third units, we're starting to get an idea of where guys stand. So, I thought it would be fun to take my best guess at next year's two-deep for the season-opener against Portland State.
A couple highly-regarded junior college transfers won't be arriving until the fall, so keep in mind that I'm simply guessing where they'll end up based on their reputations. For example, I have Shalom Luani at strong safety, but I wouldn't bat an eyelash if they decide to put him at the nickel position.
I'll put some notes down below, but here is what I came up with:
A couple things:
— Inside receiver is in a bit of flux right now, and while Tyler Baker has played well I'm still projecting River Cracraft to take over at the Y spot once he's no longer limited in practice. The Thompsons, D.J. and John, have both played well as backup inside receivers and really, either of them could win the backup H position. For now, I have D.J. Thompson there, but it also seems like every year there's a true freshman that impresses at receiver so maybe Kyle Sweet will come in and win the spot.
— At outside receiver Daniel Lilienthal has played well enough that I expect him to stay as the backup on the left side. While the Cougars did add a big junior college receiver in C.J. Dimry, my read is that the 6-foot-6 treetop will mostly be used in packages near the goal line, at least initially.
— I've flipped Gerard Wicks and Jamal Morrow at running back, and I expect Keith Harrington to see the field plenty as well. Really, the three positions will probably be interchangeable and who plays the most will be based on individual opponents. Still, I can't help but remember the way Morrow wore down toward the end of last season, to say nothing of some limited time this spring, and think that the bigger Wicks might be the favored option to bear the brunt of the workload this season.
— I feel pretty good about the front seven (six?), although I expect there will be lots of subbing and once the game gets going you'll see guys like Dylan Hanser, Reggie Coates and other sub in fairly frequently. However, I am taking a flyer on Porter at backup middle linebacker because of his reputation. If not him then expect to see Greg Hoyd III at that spot.
— The back end took a little more guesswork, since two junior college prospects seem likely to play. In fact, I have them both starting. I also have incoming freshman Sean Harper playing, based on his reputation and body type. But Marcellus Pippins has had a good camp so don't be surprised if he's able to hold off Broughton, or if one of the newcomers ends up at a different position. They're still figuring out the best spots for some guys and you could certainly see a situation where Shalom Luani comes in, beats out Sulaiman Hameed and the coaches decide to move Hameed to the nickel spot to keep the best players on the field.
— That's all for now, I'll let you know in the practice reports if my opinion changes as I'm sure it will. Don't forget, the Cougars are scrimmaging tomorrow at 1:20 p.m. in Martin Stadium.
The pressure of a quarterback competition has been nothing compared to what the WSU defense is throwing at Luke Falk and Peyton Bender.
For about a week the defense has looked really good in practice, particularly the pass rush. That's what I wrote about in the paper today. On the blog we have our practice report from yesterday and video of Mike Leach after practice.
The athletic department has a video recap of practice.
NFL.com has a story about Connor Halliday, who is making the NFL rounds. Wide receiver Vince Mayle has also met with a number of NFL teams, including the Giants.
ESPN Stats and Info says that the Cougars will play the easiest nonconference schedule over the next five years.
NFL teams really try to do their due diligence before drafting a kid, even if it's Marcus Mariota. … The Arizona Daily Star has a first look at what next year's two-deeps could look like for the Wildcats. … Dominic Green, a local recruit from Hazen High, will not be playing basketball at Arizona State. … With a top recruit signed, Cal's Cuonzo Martin expects big things next year. … Here's a Q&A with Oregon State's Jordan Villamin. … A 23-year-old sophomore walk-on is in the mix at defensive tackle for Utah.
Overall, Saturday's practice was pretty ordinary. The offense bounced back after Tuesday's subpar practice, but the defense also had lots of energy and practiced well.
But it was a notable day because a couple players that previously hadn't stood out much stepped up and had good practices. I'll explain below.
— Before we get to the fun stuff, here were the limited guys: Sulaiman Hameed, Frankie Luvu, Andre Dillard (who dressed for the first time in awhile), Nate DeRider, Drew Griffin and Brett Bartolone.
— Ngalu Tapa was limited up until Tuesday's practice but he's hit the ground running, as much as a 325-pounder can run, anyways. He's still with the second unit during team period but spent some time playing with the starters during drills.
— I know a lot of you have been curious about cornerback Jeff Farrar, who arrived at WSU as a true freshman at the end of fall camp last season and was immediately inserted into the two-deep, although he never played and ended up redshirting. Farrar originally signed with Virginia out of high school and had an impressive list of scholarship offers, and WSU's cornerbacks are all young, anyways, so it makes sense that people are curious.
Frankly, Farrar has been swimming a bit from what I've been able to observe – his coverage hasn't been great and I wonder if he's struggled to pick up the schemes a bit. He still seems pretty low on the list of CBs, behind a lot of guys in the same age group. But, he certainly looks the part at 5-foot-11, 208-pounds and if he can make a move up the depth chart it would go a long way toward getting more Pac-12 bodies on the field for the defense.
So, my eyebrows arched a little bit when Farrar ran stride-for-stride alongside Robert Lewis – one of the fastest receivers – on a vertical route during the WR vs. DB drill. Farrar still has a long way to go before he'll be playing with the ones, but the secondary hasn't been great in man coverage so far this spring and if he can stick to receivers like that it'll really help his case.
— Erik Anderson spent last season switching time on scout team between quarterback and wide receiver, and it was kind of fun to watch him throw passes to Gabe Marks, give Marks his blue quarterback jersey and then catch passes the receiver (Marks was used to simulate speedier QBs). This year the 6-foot-2, 190-pound sophomore is a fulltime wide out and he looked pretty good on Thursday.
He seems to run his routes well and showed good concentration on Thursday as he made two nice end zone catches during the one-on-one drill. The Cougars have about 60 good receivers and some of the guys that are playing really well inside right now such as D.J. and John Thompson, will still have a hard time getting snaps once River Cracraft is good to go. But, it looks like Anderson is one more receiver that will be able to give the DBs a good look in practice and down the road, who knows?
— Kache Palacio and Ivan McLennan have both been playing well at the Rush linebacker position, so if they stay healthy I wouldn't expect third-stringer Dylan Hanser to see a whole lot of time there next season. But those guys are both seniors, and outside linebackers coach Roy Manning and McLennan each raved about his play after practice, so he could definitely be the guy for two years starting in 2016.
They each referenced his impressive speed – even more apparent when going against the WSU offensive line and it's wide splits – and ability to eat up ground quickly. The sophomore from Billings, Montana is already 224-pounds but stands 6-foot-4 and seems to have a frame that could carry another 20 or so without losing any speed.
— Don't worry, I didn’t forget to watch the quarterbacks. It was sort of a streaky day for both of them and, while I would give the overall edge to Peyton Bender, Luke Falk's receivers didn't help him out much. Falk also goes against the first team defense a little more, although both QBs spend time going against the first and second units during the skeleton drill and team period.
Falk struggled initially in the skeleton drill, completing just two of his first five or six passes. Then he went on a tear, completing 10 of his next 11, albeit with two that were considered defensive stops because the receiver was less than five yards downfield when he was first touched by the defense. Jeremiah Allison ended Falk's session with a pass breakup over the middle, clinging to a receiver on a crossing route, I believe.
Bender completed eight of his first 10 pass attempts, most of which were short, and a couple that were so short as to be defensive wins. He also found Dom Williams on a comeback route about 20-yards downfield and the receiver took a looping route to get upfield, spinning Marcellus Pippins in the process and running for a touchdown.
Where Bender separated himself on Thursday was in the red zone portion of practice. Falk completed a couple good intermediate passes but was picked off by Pippins on his final throw and did not throw a touchdown in his first set. Bender threw touchdowns on each of his first three attempts, finding John Thompson and Tyler Baker on vertical routes and hitting Dom Williams from about eight-yards out.
Falk came back in and immediately threw a six-yard touchdown pass to Kyrin Priester, missed his next throw and had a third broken up by Kyle Newsom. Bender got one more pass – it was broken up by Parker Henry – and the Cougars moved on to special teams.
— Keith Harrington, Gabe Marks and Marcellus Pippins were the kick returners during special teams.
— Bender fared OK against the pass-rush on Tuesday, but the defense got to him a few times today. Jeremiah Mitchell sacked Bender on the first play of the team period, Palacio got him a little later on and there was a third sack by what we're just gonna call "Team." I have Falk finishing 9 of 12 with a drop by Marks. He also had some good luck, however, throwing his second touchdown to Marks, who caught it in the back of the end zone after the bullet pass was batted by a defender and ricocheted off another receiver.
Bender's first touchdown pass went to Dom Williams, who made the 12-yard reception with one hand while using the other and his body to shield the ball from the defender.
That session also saw a 15-yard run by Jamal Morrow up the middle and a 30-yard pass to John Thompson.
I had Falk going 10 of 15 with a touchdown to Marks, who may have landed out of bounds. Falk didn't take many shots downfield but he was able to consistently get short to moderate yardage. He also had to deal with back-to-back end zone drops by Dom Williams – the second of which would have been pretty hard to catch – and a drop on the drive by Baker.
— That's all for now. The Cougars will likely hold a second scrimmage on Saturday. We haven't gotten a time yet but the last one was 11 a.m. (EDIT: After posting this I checked my email and found an announcement that the scrimmage will start at approximately 1:20 p.m. on Saturday.)
Yesterday was the first day of the spring signing period for men's basketball and the Cougars added to their already sizable class.
We've got a Signing Day story and a blog post with some additional thoughts from coach Ernie Kent.
And here are a few more links …
— Jeff Nusser writes about WSU's recruiting class over at CougCenter.
— King5's Pete Treperinas spoke with one of WSU's new signees, Viont'e Daniels.
— Former WSU baller Aaron Baynes made a music video with his Spurs teammates and it is something else.
— Ted Miller wrote about the WSU defense yesterday.
— Washington picked up a highly-regarded football recruit.
— Former Cal football player Brennan Scarlett got into Stanford.
Today is the beginning of the spring signing period for men's basketball and the Cougars are expected to add at least two new recruits.
Charles Callison and Viont'e Daniels – who we wrote a bit about here – are expected to sign national letters of intent today and it's possible the Cougars could still add a surprise. From what I gather, the Washington State is still looking to add a big, be it a transfer or recruit, from stateside or overseas.
On the football side, I wrote about freshman running back Keith Harrington today, an explosive Floridian who has looked like a standout for the Cougars, albeit inconsistently. I also have a report from yesterday's practice, where the pass rush was sublime and the offense was something less.
For today's baseball notebook I wrote about Gonzaga's pitching and how it's propping up a postseason push, along with notes on WSU and Whitworth.
Jeff Nusser spotted a Grantland article that says Vince Mayle may be a better choice than another talented receiver with more baggage. … Washington WR/CB John Ross III participated in his first spring practice. … Ted Miller profiles star Arizona linebacker Scooby Wright. … Utah receiver had his own personal pro day. … It was a rough year for Colorado football but at least the Buffalos performed well in the classroom. … USC will have another stacked roster next fall.
Before we get to the day-to-day stuff, I've got three stories to pass along that I think are important reads for the well-rounded Cougar follower.
The first is the farewell column from longtime WSU writer Bud Withers. I grew up reading Bud's columns, and it has been a treat to get to know him these past two seasons. He will be sorely missed on the football beat next season and I hope he enjoys a well-deserved retirement.
Secondly, I'm passing along Wright Thompson's story from last week about the death of former WSU hoops assistant Jason Rabedeaux. It will take you awhile to read, and it's really sad, but it is an exceptional example of journalism and well worth the effort.
Finally, I found this column by David Brooks to be very good. Bill Walton tweeted it out last night, which is how I'm justifying its inclusion in this space.
That's it for the heavy stuff. This weekend the Cougars held their first spring scrimmage and we've got a story, blog post full of observations and final stats. Additionally, here are post-scrimmage videos of Mike Leach, Luke Falk and Jeremiah Allison. Afterward, I went to Bailey-Brayton field to watch the WSU baseball team take on Washington. The Cougars lost that game, but still came away with a series win over the Huskies. Also, a 2016 quarterback recruit decided over the weekend that he wants to play for WSU.
Football teams punt, it's just something they do. But the Cougars don't have any punters listed on their spring roster.
So to get the punt work done in practice, the Cougars have had to get a little creative. We explain how in this story for today's paper. And here on the blog we have a post documenting everything that happened in yesterday's practice, video of Mike Leach talking after practice, and a fun video with Darryl Paulo, who answers some questions about the team.
Over at CougCenter, Brian Anderson has a really cool look at the X's and O's of WSU new package that has the quarterback lined up under center. Also, there's this video of outside linebackers coach Roy Manning mic'd up at practice.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12 …
— It looks like Washington's best basketball player is transferring.
— Arizona State has hired Bobby Hurley as its new basketball coach, completing a pretty good week for Duke and its graduates.
Washington State won for the third time in its last four games last night, as Donnie Marbut picked up his 300th win.
I was at the game and wrote this story. Before that, there was a football practice, so here is the practice report, video of Mike Leach and a story about how outside receivers coach Graham Harrell is helping out with the QBs, as well.
Also, this weekend is Mom's Weekend at WSU and the football program is once again putting on a women's clinic this Friday. If that sounds like something you or someone you know is interested in, here is some more information.
In other Pac-12 news …
— The Pac-12 Blog provides some Pac-12 draft tidbits.
— Arizona's Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is off to the NBA.
— Duke assistant Jeff Capel passed on the Arizona State gig.
— Oregon kicker Matt Wogan is trying to reclaim his old starting gig.
— Oregon State's receiver's don’t appear to going above and beyond in practice.
— Drops have been a spring problem for USC's JuJu Smith.
One shining moment, indeed. When the book closed on one of the most exciting NCAA tournaments I remember we had two new champions…
There was Duke and there was … me?
That's right, I won the Spokesman-Review's bracket challenge. Unfortunately, I'm ineligible for the grand prize, so congratulations, Rick, on your new gift certificate. Email me at JacobT@Spokesman.com and we'll get it to you.
I still think I should get something for beating 45 of you readers, of course, so the next round is on Vince. Round of golf, that is.
What else happened yesterday? Well, a basketball recruit committed to playing for the Cougars. But more importantly, former WSU and USC coach George Raveling was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame. Here is a story our own John Blanchette did on Raveling when his induction was announced, and a nice profile of the coach by Trevor Williams for WSU Athletics. I also found this story yesterday about Raveling speaking to some students.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12…
— The Huskies practiced in the cold yesterday.
— Is Arizona's basketball team suffering because of a weakened Pac-12?
— A Cal transfer is set to start at left tackle for the Wildcats.
— UCLA's Kevon Looney threw his name into the NBA draft discussion.
— The Utes are trying to figure out how to go even deeper in next year's NCAA tournament.
I've covered Washington State for 19 months now, so naturally I thought I'd seen everything. But the Cougars can still surprise this old scribe.
WSU lined up behind center on less than .1 percent of its snaps last season but, lo and behold, the Cougars have been working on traditional handoffs this spring. We touch on that in yesterday's practice report and explore more in our story for today's paper. We also have a video of Mike Leach answering some questions yesterday's practice.
Here are the links…
— You already know this, but WSU's special teams haven't been special for the better part of a decade.
— Washington's quarterbacks are competing fiercely while last year's starter is absent.
— An article about Arizona's special teams.
— Could Arizona State's next basketball coach be on the bench during Monday's championship game?
— The saga of Cal's recruitment of an elite basketball recruit continues.
— Byron Marshall has one more spring at Oregon.
— Oregon State's passing game is a work in progress.
— Once again, Stanford is going to have a pretty good defense.
— There is a competition brewing among the backup quarterbacks at USC.
With Darius Lemora at nickelback, there appear to be three candidates for the two starting safety positions.
We take a look at that competition in today's story for the paper. Also in the wrap we've got Jim Allen's story on WSU's ongoing search for a soccer coach. On the blog yesterday we had our practice report, a video of Mike Leach speaking after practice and we put the Five Questions to Isaac Dotson.
The Pac-12 Blog has a story from yesterday's pro day and includes Washington State's Jeremiah Mitchell on a list of impact junior college transfers.
Yesterday the Stanford basketball team won the NIT championship.
Elsewhere in the Pac-12 …
— The Huskies had a pro day of their own.
— Herb Sendek wrote a letter following his dismissal from Arizona State.
— Former Washington prep Christian Behrens will not return to California next season.
— UCLA's freshman quarterback looked good in his first real action.
The Cougars were off from spring practice yesterday but it was still a busy day in Pullman.
The day began with Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle's pro day. The two Cougars performed in front of 13 scouts from NFL teams despite rain, wind, and even just a little snow.
Later in the day, 4A basketball Player of the Year Viont'e Daniels decided to play for Ernie Kent at WSU. I spoke with Daniels and his high school coach, yielding this blog post and story.
In other Pac-12 news …
— Washington's basketball team is losing an ace recruiter from its coaching staff.
— Arizona may lose most if not all of its starting five from the basketball team. But yesterday's McDonald's All-American game showed that help is on the way.
— Arizona State's Shaq McKissic will participate in today's Final Four dunk contest.
— Could California beat Arizona for one of the country's top basketball recruits?
— Oregon's Charles Nelson is experimenting with a switch to defense.
— Oregon State's Daniel Gomis will return for his senior season.
— Stanford will face Miami for the NIT championship.
— Devin Lucien is transferring from UCLA.
— USC's Damien Mama weighs just 358 pounds, which is much less than he used to.
Yesterday was the first day football recruits in the class of 2015 could sign letters of intent.
Washington State signed 23 players in the class and while there could be a couple late additions, there is already plenty to digest.
The basketball team plays tonight at Oregon State at 7 p.m. and I'm just now making the overland trek so let's get to those links.
— WSU signed a very good class but it could have been great if not for some late defections.
— We've compiled profiles of each signee including rankings, video and Mike Leach's assessments.
— Here is our look at WSU's recruiting budget relative to its peers.
— We've got a story on one recruit who should contribute immediately.
— Here is the official release from the school.
— Leach confirmed yesterday that assistant coach Dennis Simmons is headed to Oklahoma.
— We also have a story on basketball coach Ernie Kent's return to Oregon, where he played and coached.
— SportsPressNW takes a look at the Washington schools' respective signing day hauls.
— The Pac-12 Blog grades the recruiting classes.
— The Huskies lost to the Ducks in a game that was close throughout.
— UCLA and USC had the best classes of any Pac-12 schools and the rivalry got a little juicier when Snoop Dogg's son spurned the Trojans for their rival.
Washington State made the personnel action forms for new assistant football coaches Alex Grinch and Roy Manning available on Wednesday.
And while the budget for assistant coaches did not dramatically increase, both coaches are making more than their predecessors. Grinch, WSU's new defensive coordinator, will make $425,000.04 next year and Manning, the new outside linebackers coach, will make $236,500.08.
Former defensive coordinator Mike Breske's final annual salary at WSU was $376,500 while former outside linebackers coach Paul Volero made $181,500.
Grinch's salary would have made him him the country's 98th best-compensated assistant coach in 2014 according to USA Today. But many of the assistants ahead of him are grouped at schools such as LSU, which had two assistants making $1.3 million; Ohio State, which had five assistants making $400,000 or more; and Washington, which has three assistants that all make $3.96 more per year than Grinch.
After spending months committed to playing at USC next year, Taeon Mason changed his mind this week.
Just days ago he told the USC coaches that he changed his mind and on Sunday he used his Twitter account to announce his decision to play at Washington State.
OFFICIALLY A COUG!!!👏👏👏— 1⃣8⃣™ (@taeonm18) January 25, 2015
Scout.com lists the 6-foot, 170-pound Mason as a four-star receiver, ranked No. 47 in the country at the position. Rivals.com also gives Mason four stars, but as a cornerback where he is rated No. 34 nationally.
Mason plays at Muir High in Pasadena, California and dealt with some injuries this season, missing the season-opener because of an issue with his back. But he came back after the injury and obviously played well enough to keep schools interested.
His commitment only helps WSU's precipitous rise in the recruiting rankings and it seems all but certain that the program will sign its most highly-ranked recruiting class since the online services became prominent in the early 2000s.
Scout.com ranks WSU's class No. 23 in the country and gives six of WSU's committed recruits four-star grades and Rivals.com has the Cougars 29th with four four-stars.
Here is a video of WSU's newest announced recruit:
New WSU defensive coordinator publicly spoke to the media for the first time on Friday. Here is a transcription of what he said:
Question: What defense do you plan to run at WSU?
Alex Grinch: We'll base out of a 3-4, which, hard to say exactly whether similar or not so much to what’s been done in the past but at least similar up to that point in a 3-4 structure. Three down lineman with four linebackers and four on the back end.
So that will give us the ability to be multiple from a coverage standpoint and from a pressure standpoint so that would be a good initial base rundown of what it is.
Q: Could you describe your relationship with coach David Yost?
AG: I know coach Yost going back to the early 2000s so I've known him a long time, certainly our communication back and forth over the years contributed to that relationship and our most recent communication included the position that was available here at Washington State. That, without question, kind of started the ball rolling.
Q: How long did the hiring process take?
AG: Fairly quickly, and I would tell this to everybody, I was very comfortable in my role at Missouri. I was in a position to coach very similar to the Pac-12, to coach in the SEC, and we were able to win a couple championships the last couple years as well as January bowl games, which lends itself to a comfort level there.
I wasn't necessarily looking for a job but the opportunity to come to a place like a Washington State though, in the Pac-12, in the coordinator position, was something that I was extremely interested in and so really over the last week that kind of took shape and here we are.
Q: Have you had a chance to meet with the players or watch film on them?
AG: I've seen a little bit of film and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't going to watch a lot more. I'll do the best job I can in terms of keeping an open mind in terms of my personnel evaluations and that moving forward, just as I would hope that they would have an open mind with the changes that are presented to them in the next few months leading up to spring football.
So, I think it's important that both sides afford each other those opportunities. Watching film and getting a baseline evaluation for both personnel and the overall scheme from a year ago, obviously there are going to be some changes, obviously there is, like anything, there's not a whole lot of magic to any defensive package so I'm sure there will be some similarities as well and some changes in terminology and those things.
But I'll continue to work an evaluation of last year's tape and get a feel or baseline for where everything's at but otherwise over the next few weeks, I'm in Pullman now with nine student-athletes this weekend for official visits. I'll be on the road Sunday with the rest of the staff and really this next month will include weeks on the road recruiting, shoring up this class, and then weekends in town for official visits so it will be an aggressive month of recruiting while still trying to work to finish our staff on the defensive side of the ball while working through some playbook stuff and those things so we hit the ground running when we visit with our guys.
Q: Do you know what you will do with the final defensive coaching position?
AG: What we want to do is we want to get the best candidate available, any way you slice it. You could possibly go with two around the defensive line, two with the possibly inside-outside linebackers, possibly two in the secondary so our aim right now is to get the best teacher, the best recruiter we possibly can to bring in here to help us on the defensive side of the ball.
Q: How long are you signed on at WSU?
AG: I'm signed on to coach this team through spring football and next fall.
Q: How can you create more turnovers?
AG: Well there's not a magic answer and we're all searching for one but I think there's a couple ingredients: one is bringing guys into understanding how important they are and it's not a "try to" type of thing – it's imperative that we get the ball out, it's imperative that we attack the football when it's in the air. Every time that ball's throw is an opportunity to change possession if you're doing the right thing coverage-wise, so I think that's where it starts is making sure that the guys understand to try to create turnovers and attacking the football is not a self-conscious thing, it's not a hope we get lucky approach.
It starts in practice and it starts with as many bodies as we possibly can get to the point of attack and that goes back to scheme and making sure we're doing the right things from a soundness defensively, making sure guys are playing aggressive and you'll hear me in every interview talk about guys playing "downhill."
When you do those things the more guys you get to the football, the more confidence they have in their pursuit to the football, lends itself to an aggressiveness that when you're at the point of attack you've got a chance to be more violent when you get there because you know exactly what to do, where you need to be, how you need to fit so some of the things it does come down to our teaching and that and some of that is defensive scheme.
Some of it's how you practice. Every team in America will do takeaway, takeaway circus where you're stripping, you're scooping, you're punching so without question those are trained habits so that will be included but every single play in practice there's an opportunity to get a turnover, whether it's on 7-on-7 or 1-on-1, when you go 11-on-11 against the offense, so every play in a game lends itself to being an opportunity to get the ball back for our offense.
Really, the brainwashing needs to begin in earnest so the guys understand that their responsibility is to get the ball back for the offense. And again, some of it's mindset, some of it's technique and some of it's the defensive scheme being taught as such so the guys can be aggressive.
Q: Are there any challenges or positives you see coaching a young defense?
AG: Well I think the positive is you always kind of want to, the idea of having a little bit more of a clean slate allows you to train them in ways that you don't have to break bad habits so you may kind of point to that.
But hopefully when you're talking about young football players, and even guys that have experience, what we need is a room full of guys that are sponges to what we're teaching and so in a our world I think that's important: that every single guy in that room has the ability to get better. It's got to be our expectation as a coaching staff they do just that and then their expectations of us are that we do a great job teaching them and developing them so that they can be successful.
Obviously, more successful than last year, sure. But what our aim's got to be is practice two of spring football they've got to be better than practice one. And so when you're talking about, again, I think young and old but I think no matter what end of the spectrum you're at we need a room full of guys trying to get better.
Q: What will your recruiting area be?
AG: That hasn't been decided. Once we finish the staff that will obviously be a bit of a shakeup that way but at this point it hasn't been defined.
Q: How important is it for you to sell recruits that they should choose WSU for the same reasons you did?
AG: Well I think you bring up a good point. They're in a situation, almost to the man, where they obviously have other options. Whether they're in the conference or out of the conference.
Obviously in a completely different stage of life when you're talking career-wise, but I had options and my main option was to stay put exactly where I was. And so there was enough here in Pullman, enough at Washington State and specific to Mike Leach's program where he's been successful everywhere he's ever been, to make me want to I guess, quite honestly, leave a comfort zone to come out here and be a part of this program.
Any time you're making the transition from high school to college, unless you're from Pullman, you're going to leave your comfort zone in one respect or another. So without question you bring up a good point, it's probably more similar despite the different stages of life than you might assume.
Q: Do you approach junior college recruits in a special manner?
AG: One I think, part of the evaluation changes because when you're talking about a junior college player your time to develop them is obviously a lot shorter. Everyone can still develop whether they're coming from high school or junior college but again, you won't have as much time with them.
What you're hoping to get is someone that possesses a little higher skillset than a high school kid. So that's part of it. You want a guy that can make an instant impact on your program in some capacity or another.
Beyond that almost every single one of those guys is not confused as to the short duration that they're going to have an opportunity to spend playing in the Pac-12. So you've got to develop a plan very quickly, you've got to earmark a place where they can help you, to see the field right away, and then you've got to do a good sales job in terms of them understanding what you're going to do to develop them, to have a plan in place for a very short period of time.
So it is a unique recruiting process with junior college players.
Q: Did coach Yost contact you about the job?
AG: Quite honestly it was more of a call for a casual conversation about anything other than Missouri football or WSU football and then as the conversation progressed, I kind of mentioned my desire to look at coordinator opportunities if they presented themselves in the right opportunity, in the right situation and then obviously with the opening still here at Washington State that changed the tone of the conversation a little bit and it kind of went from there and it progressed.
Q: Did Yost go to Mike Leach at that point?
AG: That would be the long and short of it, yeah. Pretty quick back and forth I guess from there and then I had an opportunity to come out here this past weekend and get a chance to visit and talk.
Q: When did you have your original conversation with coach Yost?
AG: About a week or so ago.
Q: When did Leach get ahold of you?
A: Shortly thereafter.
Q: When did you arrive in Pullman.
Q: How do you react to people that would question if you're ready to be a coordinator?
AG: First, I haven't met anyone that was born into a coordinator role so based on my experience everyone has progressed through the ranks, if you will, to get an opportunity to run their own defense or offense over time.
Beyond that, all opinions will take place after a week we start playing games in the fall. I'm worried about the results that we produce at that time as opposed to everyone's feelings about me.
Q: Have you heard any good jokes about your last name?
A: I don't know what you're talking about. As a family, we've developed a lot of mental toughness.
Q: Has Leach decided for sure if Eric Mele will stay as the special teams coach?
A: That's a question for coach Leach.
Q: Has it been determined that you will coach the defensive backs?
A: Well we're still looking for one more hire here on the defensive side of the ball and trying to find the best candidate available regardless of position. I have a real comfort level on the back end and so if we got that direction I'd feel very confident in having all four (defensive backs).
Over the course of my career, other than really the last couple years at Missouri, have had the entire back end and there's some positives to that in terms of cross-training and those things so I would be comfortable if that was the direction we took.
Q: Have you talked to any other schools about other jobs?
AG: I have, I have. None progressed and none I felt were the right opportunity for my family and that would not just be this offseason but every offseason so this is the one that got the antennas up.
Q: Were any of them coordinator jobs?
AG: The majority of jobs I've talked about over the last few years have been coordinator jobs.
Q: How about this winter?
AG: This winter possibly.
Q: Did any of them progress to the point of an offer?
AG: I haven't found the right opportunity.
Q: What reason did you give coach Leach as to why he should hire you?
AG: Not to put words in coach Leach's mouth but along those lines my only aim in looking at this opportunity was to have an opportunity to help WSU win football games. Therein lies the motivation. This is an opportunity for me to do just that.
I think philosophically, my approach, what I've been in the past, where I've been in the past, and what we've been able to accomplish has developed that philosophy. Coach wants to find a way to be more aggressive on the defensive side of the ball. I think the package lends itself to that. He wants to produce more takeaways. I think our teaching and practice structure will lend itself to that. It's important to get off the field on third downs. There's going to be a huge emphasis on that. And then obviously it's important to play good defense in the red zone and make teams count in threes instead of sevens, that can have a huge impact on winning and losing as well.
So I think all those ingredients, I think play into it and all those things I think is stuff that you can sell to the players. It's something guys can kind of wrap their heads around and hang on to in terms of what we are as a defense and I think the final thing on all those things is making sure that not one team we face out-efforts us and making sure that the produce ton the field shows a group of guys that are absolutely flying to the football and dying to produce. So again, whether that answers your question or hits home with coach Leach, that's kind of where we're at.
Q: What confidence did your successful teams at Mount Union have and how does that translate into your coaching?
A: Well one, I appreciate you bringing up my playing career. Two, both there and really every stop along the way, like you said we've won the bulk of our games there and I think it developed an approach that we were going to find a way and it wasn't always going to be easy and we were going to have to grind it out. You don't win that many games by blowing everybody out.
But a "find a way" approach, if you've got to win a game 10-7 you're going to find a way to get that done regardless of what's going on on the other side of the ball. But I've been fortunate. A four-year run at New Hampshire where at that level of football you finish in the Top-10 rankings, play in the playoffs, and two bowl games in my three years at Wyoming, a couple SEC championships in my time at Missouri.
I think at every place I've been the common ingredients have included tremendous effort, it's included a great teaching system starting with the coaches and the product on the field has been a result, if nothing else, of at least those two things.
Much was written about WSU sports yesterday, most of it centered on the hiring of WSU's new defensive coach. But not all of it.
The men's basketball team has the first of this weekend's games today and we've got our weekly outlook just in time. We also have a story on WSU's precocious post: Josh Hawkinson. And, as a special treat, we've got a John Blanchette column on Ernie Kent of WSU and Wayne Tinkle of Oregon State (and Spokane), the Pac-12's surprising first-year (if not first time) coaches.
On the blog I wondered whether or not instate recruiting should be a priority and don't miss the news that Bennie Seltzer is headed to the Pac-12 Hall of Honor.
Still, the big news was that the football team has a defensive coordinator. Alex Grinch is his name and I swear to you that I will not touch any Seussian rhymes with a 39-and-a-half foot pole.
Here at the S-R we have our story on the hire, a copy of WSU's press release and some video of the new coach in action at Missouri. I also wanted to pass along this story from a Missouri writer, as well as a profile of Grinch written when he began at MU.
The Seattle Times has a story on the hire as does CougCenter. The news was first reported by Football Scoop.
A couple pairs of Pac-12 rivals got together on Wednesday to play basketball. UCLA made basketball look like something people do for fun for the first time in awhile in a win over USC, while California's struggles continued against Stanford.
Credit to @425CougFan for the find.
Alex Grinch will take over as the new defensive coordinator at Washington State and will try to make the Cougars defense as potent as their offense.
Mike Leach dismissed defensive coordinator Mike Breske and outside linebackers coach Paul Volero six weeks ago, following WSU’s season-ending loss to Washington in the Apple Cup.
Grinch comes to WSU from Missouri, where he spent three years as the Tigers safeties coach. Prior to that he spent three seasons as the secondary coach at Wyoming.
While at MU Grinch drew praise from coach Gary Pinkel for his recruiting abilities, particularly in the Southeast.
Now he will be tasked with improving a WSU defense that ranked No. 97 nationally in total yards allowed. The Cougars struggles on defense were the primary reason WSU backslid to a 3-9 record one year after playing in a bowl game, despite having the country’s No. 7 total offense.
It is not yet known what defensive scheme Grinch will bring to Pullman, although it is believed that one of the criteria used during the search was the use of an attacking defense that utilized blitzes and stunts to create pressure on the quarterback.
Why should coaches care where a player comes from? What is the virtue of stressing instate recruiting?
The folks at CougCenter had an interesting discussion on the topic yesterday, asking whether or not strengthening recruiting in Washington should be a priority when WSU hires its new coaches.
It's a good time to ask whether or not that matters since there aren't any Washington high school seniors that are publicly committed to playing at WSU next year. The most instate players Mike Leach has recruited in one years was six in 2013, a group that yielded two redshirt freshman starters this season in right tackle Cole Madison and middle linebacker Peyton Pelluer, as well as a player that likely would have contributed but for injuries in safety Isaac Dotson.
It's not like the Cougars have ignored instate recruiting this year – Rivals.com lists 13 Washington high school seniors that have or have had scholarship offers from WSU.
But as Brian Anderson posits in the CougCenter piece, perhaps the staff isn't expending extra energy on the local recruits when there are more players they like better elsewhere.
So, is it worth prioritizing recruiting in the Evergreen State?
My initial feeling was that it is important for teams to recruit well in their home state because that is where the built-in advantage lies. When a coach recruits an elite athlete from Florida or Texas to WSU, he has to introduce the player to the program and the school, and start recruiting them from scratch.
That player has likely grown up following other schools and hasn't spent a lot of time envisioning himself in a WSU jersey.
Conversely, a local player already has a lot of obvious reasons to attend the school. If they were just a normal student going off to college they are statistically more likely to choose the local school than any other particular school for all the same reasons: friends, family, familiarity, connections to local jobs, a desire to live in the area after graduation, growing up rooting for the school's teams, etc.
Therefore, the importance of recruiting well locally is to keep those ties strong – you want the seventh grader from Spokane who grows into a five-star recruit to spend his childhood rooting for the Cougars because the three-stars that were the childhood heroes of he and his friends played there.
There may be other intangible benefits to having local prep stars on the team in terms of fan engagement or whether or not players are less likely to get homesick and transfer, but I bet a winning program with out-of-state players does just fine in those respects compared to a losing one made up of local duds.
Still, I wanted to explore the idea that the best way to get impact players into a program is to lock up the home state.
First, I looked at members of the WSU athletics Hall of Fame that played football from since 1980. I did not include players from previous teams because that would skew the numbers vastly in favor of recruiting instate players since recruiting did not used to be the national enterprise it is today. Here is what I found:
Instate players: 6
Drew Bledsoe (1992) – Walla Walla; Dan Lynch (1984) – Spokane; Jason Hanson (1991) – Spokane; Mark Rypien (1985) – Spokane; Mike Utley (1988) – Seattle ; Steve Gleason (2000) – Spokane
Out of state players: 1
Reuben Mayes (1985) – North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada
Wow! What a blowout for the home team! Six instate Hall of Famers and just one that came from a different state, in fact a different country. Of course, many of the players from that era simply haven't been inducted yet, and a sample size of seven players over three and a half decades simply won't do.
So let's expand the search to WSU's first team all-conference players from the same era:
Instate players: 22
Brandon Gibson (2008) – Puyallup; Calvin Armstrong (2003) – Centralia; Chad Eaton (1994) – Rogers; Clarence Williams (1992) – Renton; Dan Grayson (1989) – Woodland; Dan Lynch (1984) – Spokane; Deron Pointer (1993) — Tacoma; Derrick Roche (2002) – Kent; Drew Bledsoe (1992) – Walla Walla; Drew Dunning (2002) – Issaquah; Erik Coleman (2003) – Spokane; James Darlins (1996) – Kettle Falls; Jason Hanson (1991) – Spokane; John Husby (1990) – Bellevue; Josh Parrish (2002) – Chelewah; Marcus Trufant (2002) – Tacoma; Mark Rypien (1985) – Spokane; Mike Utley (1988) – Seattle ; Mkristo Bruce (2006) – Issaquah; Rien Long (2002) – Anacortes; Steve Gleason (2000) – Spokane; Will Derting (2005) – Okanogan
Out of state players: 22
Anthony McClanahan (1993) – Bakersfield, California; Deone Bucannon (2013) – Fairfield, California; DeWayne Patterson (1994) – Oakland, California; Don Sasa (1994) – Long Beach, California; Eric Frampton (2006) – San Jose, California; Eric Howard (1985) – San Jose, California; Eric Williams (1983) – Stockton, California; Jason David (2003) – Covina, California; Jason Gesser (2002) – Honolulu, Hawaii; Jerome Harrison (2005) – Kalamazoo, Michigan; Kerry Porter (1986) – Great Falls, Montana; Keith Millard (1983) – Pleasanton, California; Kitrick Taylor (1986) – Arvada, California; Lamont Thompson (2001) – Richland, California; Leon Bender (1997) – Santee, California; Mark Fields (1994) Cerritos, California; Matt Elisara (1981) – Pago Pago, American Samoa; Paul Sorensen (1981) – Walnut Creek, California; Reuben Mayes (1985) – North Battleford, Saskatchewan, Canada; Ryan Leaf (1987) – Great Falls, Montana; Scott Sanderson (1996) – Concord, California; Shawn Tims (1997) – Vallejo, California; Steve Broussard (1989) – Los Angeles, California
That's more like it. The out of state players caught up to the instate guys, and both groups have players spaced out fairly evenly over the years. It's obvious that the Cougars have always drawn some of their best players from outside the state, usually from California.
It's also worth pointing out that recruiting star players outside the state will only get easier the further we get into the internet era. The fact that Pac-12 football games are being televised at an unprecedented rate certainly doesn't hurt, either.
But considering the respective populations of this state vs. the field, the quality most likely to make a future all-conference player choose WSU is being from Washington.
Talent is talent and of course the coaches should always take the most talented players they can get. But the answer to the question of whether or not instate recruiting should continue to be a priority seems to be a resounding yes, in my opinion.
What do you think?
Here are some links:
— Isiah Myers will play in a postseason All-Star game.
— Deone Bucannon made the Pro Football Writers' All-Rookie team.
— WSU checks in at No. 10 in some Pac-12 power rankings that are way too early.
— Washington's coach has no idea who will start at quarterback next season.
— Oregon's Arik Armstead will go pro. But should Marcus Mariota come back to school?
— Only two basketball games today, but it's a pair of rivalries. UCLA and USC each could use a big win to lift their spirits while Cal and Stanford appear to be headed in opposite directions.
— Utah quarterback Adam Schulz is transferring to Houston.
Those who were backing the Pac-12 were disappointed last night as Ohio State blew past Oregon in the championship game.
The Ducks were missing some key players, but they don't get to use that excuse since the Buckeyes were on their quarterback. Frankly, UO was barely competitive despite forcing four turnovers and Urban Meyer once again looks like the best coach in college football.
But hey, at least an SEC team didn't win the title.
The championship game sort of dominated the news yesterday, but here are some links:
— Oklahoma hired an offensive coordinator and added another branch to Mike Leach's coaching tree.
— The Wall Street Journal assessed the value of college football programs and WSU checks in at No. 49.
— No, the Pac-12 didn't get any extra money because Oregon participated in the title game.
— College football never had a bigger stage than it did on Monday.
— Arizona might switch things up with a zone defense.
— Arizona State is switching to Adidas and this is what the new uniforms could look like.
— Good news for Cal: Jabari Bird is back.