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WSU adds a recruit, then adds two more

Washington State received commitments from three football players, two of them in the class of 2016. But the first to announce his decision will take the longest to get to Pullman.

Tayari Venable, soon to be a high school junior, made his announcement first and was followed shortly by seniors Skyler Thomas and Grant Porter. Porter is a three-star wide receiver from Upland while Thomas plays at Citrus Hill High in Perris, California. Venable plays at Rancho Cucamonga.

The decisions were announced during a ceremony at the Ground Zero training facility in Rancho Cucamonga, California. Greg Biggins of Scout.com was at the ceremony, and was on top of the commitments, as you can see:
  

As with any college declarations made before the start of senior year, there are some caveats. All three recruits, for example, have yet to visit WSU and it's not a bad rule of thumb to take a commitment with some skepticism if the kid hasn't actually been to campus.

But it's always a good thing when the recruits accept the scholarships you offer them, and the Cougars now have 10 rising seniors committed in the class of 2016. That's four more than they had at this time last year, per Scout.com's commitment tracker and an indication that things are going well for the WSU coaches on the recruiting trail.

Highlight videos are below.

Skyler Thomas:
  

Tayari Venable:

Grant Porter:

WSU unveils flexible ticket plan

The Pac-12 policy of announcing kickoff times six or 12 days in advance can be a real pain during football season.

Heck, it annoys me, and I know I'll be at every game. Plus, I live in Pullman. I can't imagine what it's like having to plan a trip east of the mountains and not know whether you should plan on getting into town in time for an early kickoff or if it's best to stay another night. What do people with young children do?

Well, Washington State's trying to make all that a little easier with a flexible ticket plan that allows you to purchase a three-game mini-plan and then select which games to attend during a 48-hour window after the kickoff time is announced.

Here's more from the school.

How to watch DaVonté Lacy and Jordan Railey this summer

Former Washington State hoopers DaVonté Lacy and Jordan Railey will be playing in the NBA summer league during July.

The summer league is really three separate leagues in Orlando, Utah and Las Vegas where rookies can get their first taste of professional basketball while other young players can work out the kinks in their games. The rosters are dotted with players like Lacy and Railey who went undrafted but still have a chance to show NBA teams they're worth another look.

Lacy will be playing in Orlando with the Indiana Pacers team. He'll play alongside first-round pick Myles Turner out of Texas, and former Pac-12 rivals Solomon Hill (Arizona) and Conference Player of the Year Joe Young (Oregon). He'll have an opportunity to learn from head coach Frank Vogel and former Sonics coach Nate McMillan, who is one of Vogel's assistants.

Here is the schedule for Indiana's games, which run from July 4-10. It costs $14.99 to watch all the summer league games on your computer, tablet, phone or two-way wrist radio.

Railey will be playing in the Utah summer League with the Philadelphia 76ers. There he will play alongside No. 3 overall pick Jahlil Okafor who just won a national championship with Duke, former Duck Arsalan Kazemi, Colorado's Askia Booker and Arizona point guard T.J. McConnell. Here is the Philadelphia schedule.

Everett offensive lineman chooses WSU

Josh Watson, a 6-foot-5, 270-pound offensive lineman out of Everett's Cascade High, committed to play for Washington State.

Watson's decision was first reported by Cougfan.com.

Watson becomes the eighth known member of the WSU football program's 2016 recruiting class, and the third instate commitment in just over a week. Conversely, the Cougars didn't sign any Washington preps in their last signing class.

While Watson is unranked by Scout.com, he does claim scholarship offers from Boise State and Fresno State.

Here are some highlights of the new Cougar offensive lineman in action:

Bellingham receiver joins WSU recruiting class

Josiah Westbrook of Bellingham's Squalicum High will play for Washington State, reports Cougfan.com. He is the second instate player to commit to WSU in less than a week, following Federal Way's D'jimon Jones last Thursday. Last season the Cougars did not sign any instate recruits.

 

Westbrook, a 6-foot-2, 177-pound receiver, is a two-star player according to Scout.com. He reportedly also has a scholarship offer from Hawaii. He is also apparently quite the basketball player. A three-sport athlete, Westbrook ran an electronically timed 100-meter dash in 11.05 seconds during the 2015 outdoor track season.

 

But football is how Westbrook will pay for college and you can see highlights of his gridiron exploits below.

Hometown team gives Jordan Railey a long look

The Portland Trail Blazers have hosted Beaverton-native Jordan Railey for a pair of workouts in advance of Thursday's NBA draft, the second one coming on Monday at the team's practice facility in Tualatin.

CSSNW.com has video of Railey speaking with reporters after the workout.

The 7-foot center averaged 6.6 points and 3.2 rebounds as a senior at Washington State last season, his third year after transferring from Iowa State University.

While those numbers are pretty measly for a fifth-year senior, Railey also showed that he's still improving with some breakout performances, like when he scored 17 points in a close win at California or when he blocked five shots at Utah.

He also did this.

Ultimately, the Trail Blazers were likely throwing a bone to a local guy while bringing in a good workout partner for another 7-footer they're taking a look at. The team doesn't currently have any second-round picks, so they won't be taking any flyers on a project unless they're willing to do some draft day trading. Railey has told me in the past that he's excited about the prospect of playing in Europe and getting to see the world while getting paid to play.

Still, Portland has given him an opportunity to play with talented players in front of NBA scouts and workout with NBA coaches. That's only going to help him, and if it leads to something more down the road, such as a summer league invite, then all the better.

 

 

D’jimon Jones tweets his commitment to WSU

Washington State picked up its sixth known commitment of the 2016 recruiting cycle on Thursday when Jones tweeted his intention of joining the Cougars.

It's not certain the 6-foot-2, 175-pound athlete out of Federal Way High School will play at WSU. Rivals.com expects Jones to play quarterback while Scout.com merely lists him as an athlete.

But it's worth noting that in his highlight videos, such as the one below, he's chosen to show exclusively videos of him playing quarterback, although he does also list himself as a cornerback. It sure appears in his video that he has the athleticism to play defensive back, with many of his highlights showing option plays and other runs that showcase his speed and quickness.

The Cougars also have one quarterback currently committed in the class of 2016 Oak Ridge High's Ian Book.

Jones reportedly also had a scholarship offer from Montana.

WSU adds a junior college cornerback for next season

Kirkland Parker, a cornerback at Blinn Community College in Texas, announced on Twitter early Wednesday morning that he will play at Washington State.

According to the WSU news and recruiting website WazzuWatch.com, Parker will join the Cougars in the fall as a member of the class of 2015 with three years to play and no redshirt year available.

The Cougars weren't believed to have any scholarships remaining and, with players expected to report to Pullman shortly, Parker's commitment likely means that at least one signee won't show up at WSU.

Here are some highlights:

  

Time and television for the Rutgers game

Washington State's Sept. 12 game at Rutgers will kickoff at 12:30 p.m. (PT) and be televised on either ESPN2 or ESPNU.

Friday's announcement means that game times have been set for four WSU games, with the rest to be announced either six or 12 days prior to kickoff.

Here is the release from WSU athletics.

Lanky receiver commits to WSU

Stephen Houston, a 6-foot-3 wide receiver from Oxnard, California, says he will play football at Washington State.

Probably an outside receiver, Houston appears to have good speed to go along with his size. While not much has been written about Housto, Braulio Perez, who first reported Houston's commitment in a subscription article for Cougfan.com of the Scout network, wrote that Houston was given a scholarship offer by assistant coach Clay McGuire, who appears to have been his primary recruiter.

Perez also writes that while WSU is the only school to offer a scholarship to Houston, schools such as Houston, Missouri and San Diego State have also been in contact.

Here's some video of Houston in action:

Yesterday was a big day for WSU baseball

Where to begin? Five Cougars began their professional baseball careers on Wednesday, one made his MLB debut, others were honored for academics and Washington State got a surprise arm for next season.

Let's start with 25-year-old Adam Conley, an Olympia native (like myself) who the Miami Marlins took with their second-round pick in 2011. Conley finally reached the majors yesterday, and threw a perfect inning in Miami's loss to Toronto.

Maybe a few more Cougars will get to play in The Show in the coming years, with five players getting selected in the 2015 MLB Draft.

Sam Triece was a steady reliever for the Cougars this season, going 5-0 with a 2.66 earned-run average in a team-leading 31 appearances and allowing just one run on 10 hits over his final 15 appearances. He became the first Cougar drafted Wednesday when the Tampa Bay Rays chose him in the 10th round with the 298th pick in the draft.

Ian Sagdal was the first Cougar in more than two decades to lead the team in batting average (.298), home runs (six), RBI (34), doubles (13), runs (35) and stolen bases. He also tied for second in the Pac-12 Conference with five triples and was ninth with a .498 slugging percentage. The Washington Nationals made him the No. 494 overall selection with their 16th round pick.

The Seattle Mariners kept ace starting pitcher Joe Pistorese in the Pacific Northwest, picking the lefty in the 17th round. Pistorese was twice named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week and led the conference with four complete games. The two-time All-Conference selection went 8-5 for the Cougars in 2015 and finished with a 2.41 ERA.

Pistorese could be working with a familiar backstop in the minors; with their 19th round pick the Mariners selected WSU catcher P.J. Jones. Jones was a workhorse behind the plate this season, starting 42 games and hitting .258 with 15 RBI.

Finally, Matt Bower went in the 23rd round to the Houston Astros. Bower, the only junior selected from WSU, has the option to return for his senior season. He finished second on the team with seven wins despite pitching out of the bullpen.

Also on Wednesday, WSU sophomore pitcher Wes Leow was named to the Pac-12 All-Academic First Team after posting a 3.68 grade point average. Triece and sophomore Cameron Frost earned honorable mention status. Here is WSU's release.

Perhaps the best news for the WSU baseball program on Wednesday, however, was Park McFadden's decision to postpone his professional career. WSU's previous baseball coaching staff intimated to me that they did not expect McFadden, who was expected to be selected in the first three-to-five rounds, to pass up a hefty signing bonus. But McFadden fell to the 20th round and told MLB.com that he will play college ball.

WSU adds a cornerback to 2016 class

Jalen Thompson, a cornerback from Downey High in Los Angeles, became the fourth member of Washington State's 2016 recruiting class on Friday.

Thompson is a three-star prospect according to Scout.com, which ranks him the 99th-best corner in the class. Thompson is listed at 5-foot-10, 166-pounds and also had scholarship offers from Army, Navy New Mexico and San Diego State, according to Cougfan.com, which broke the news of his commitment early Friday afternoon.

It's likely that WSU assistant Roy Manning played a large role in Thompson's recruitment – he's the staff's point man in Los Angeles – making Thompson the second recruit Manning has landed in just more than a week Last week Renard Bell from Cathedral High committed to WSU in large part due to his relationship with the assistant coach.

In fact, Bell and Thompson are friends, which is something we noted in our story on Bell's commitment. Both have relationships with Thompson's teammate at Downey, Daevon Vigilant, so his recruitment will be something to keep an eye on.

Here is some game film of WSU's cornerback recruit: 
  

Morning links: WSU introduces new baseball coach Marty Lees

One day after Washington State announced that Marty Lees will take over the Cougars baseball program, the new coach was officially introduced at a press conference in Pullman.

Sean Kramer covered the event, filing this story, which includes comments from Lees and athletic director Bill Moos. For more background on the hire, here is my story from Wednesday.

Moos hired Lees pretty quickly, barely a week after dismissing Donnie Marbut, so he probably wasn't blowing smoke when he said, "I got my guy." Lees' next step will be filling out his staff—he said yesterday that he's already got one assistant in mind. After that he and his newly-assembled assistants will evaluate the roster and then start recruiting, which by all accounts appears to be his specialty.

Now let's get caught up on what other WSU news has happened recently:

— The football team signed a talented receiver.

— WSU basketball won't suffer any academic sanctions after pulling out a superior APR grade.

— But the Cougars didn't grade well in a ranking of Pac-12 athletic department revenues.

— New linebackers coach Roy Manning secured a commitment from an athlete who could play on either side of the ball.

WSU adds a receiver

Even as Washington State begins adds commitments for t 2016, the Cougars are still wrapping up their 2015 recruiting class. Sort of.

Tavares Martin from West Palm Beach, Florida, turned in his national letter of intent to the WSU coaching staff on Tuesday, according to multiple outlets. Martin was recruited in the 2015 class but will likely count as a member of the 2016 class for the Cougars. More on that below.

Martin originally planned to sign with West Virginia, but had his scholarship offer rescinded following an arrest for attempted burglary. Martin allegedly broke into a home and stole some stuff, including a flat screen TV.

While the arrest happened long before Martin committed to WVU, various reports state that it was the reason for the scholarship offer to be revoked. He then signed with Ellsworth Community College in Iowa.

Because theft is one of WSU coach Mike Leach's three violations that are cause for immediate dismissal, Martin will undoubtedly be under tight scrutiny from both fans and coaches.

Martin told Cougfan.com that he had a one-on-one meeting with athletic director Bill Moos, who apparently gave Leach the go-ahead to sign the talented receiver.

In the article, available to Cougfan subscribers, Martin said, "(Moos) told me that he's glad that I learned from my mistakes and that I need to make better decision. I need to hang around better people … Mr. Moos gave coach Leach the stamp of approval."

In Martin the Cougars are getting an undeniably talented receiver, one who reportedly had scholarship offers from Alabama, Forida, Ohio State and many other successful programs.

He also fills a need, since Rickey Preston (another late addition to the class), opted to sign with Tulane a few weeks ago. Because WSU already has the max of 25 scholarships given out for 2015, the plan for Preston was to sign financial aid papers and count against the 2016 class, while still being able to play right away. It seems reasonable to assume that's what Martin will do, and that he actually signed financial aid papers, rather than an NLI. I'm still trying to confirm that's the case and will update when I can.

Athlete Renard Bell commits to play at WSU


In the early afternoon on Thursday, Renard Bell of Cathedral HS in Los Angeles called WSU assistant Roy Manning.

Manning, a linebacker coach but the primary recruiter for the Cougars in southern California, has been recruiting Bell since early April, texting him or touching base almost every day.

That constant contact paid off, because Bell was calling to tell Manning that he plans on playing for WSU next fall.

"They showed a lot of love. They were the first team to offer me and ever since they offered me, they could not stop showing me love," Bell said. "My parents loved it and they were the school really showing me love out of all the offers that I have. So I felt comfortable and decided to go ahead and commit."

Bell also explained how Manning formed a relationship with him, saying, "They were being cool, asking me how my day was going, how's school, asking about track because I'm a track guy. They were joking around a lot and I felt very comfortable."

The Cougars initially recruited Bell as a cornerback, but the offensive coaches thought his talents as a receiver also merited a scholarship. Eventually they told the speedster, who clocked a 10.89 100-meter dash this spring, that he could play on either side of the ball. He says he prefers receiver.

Bell says he also had scholarship offers from Fresno State, San Diego State and Nevada.

"And I was talking to a lot of schools, Wyoming, UCLA, Boise State, Arizona State, Utah, Utah State and Colorado, and a couple other schools," He added. "But Washington State hit me up every day, every week and they were just keeping up with me."

Bell is friends with Jalen Thompson and Daevon Vigilant of Downey High in California, both of whom already have scholarship offers from the Cougars.

He will take an unofficial visit to WSU in June and then an official visit in the fall. He hasn't ruled out visiting other schools to compare, but says he will first talk with WSU's coaches.

  

WSU men’s basketball avoids APR restrictions

The first thing Ernie Kent did when he and his staff arrived at Washington State wasn't call recruits or install his scheme. Instead, he made sure the departing players that he would never coach—D.J. Shelton, James Hunter, Royce Woolridge, Will Dilorio—got their degrees and that the remaining players were in good academic standing.

The academic emphasis paid off for Kent today, as the Cougars narrowly avoided penalties in the NCAA's just-released Academic Progress Rate (APR). The NCAA gives each team a yearly APR score out of 1,000 that measures its academic performance and retention. If a team's average score over a four-year period dips below 930 it faces penalties, including potential postseason ineligibility.

The reason for Kent's urgency? A score of 900 in 2010-11 that, paired with a 926 last season, seemed almost certain to result in some sort of academic punishment for the WSU men's basketball team. In fact, because basketball has so few scholarships (here is an explanation of how the scoring works) even one player leaving in poor academic standing could have torpedoed the Cougars below the 930 threshold.

Instead, the Cougars posted a 963 for 2013-14, keeping their four-year rolling at to 938 and effectively out of the danger zone.  Next year that 900 score will no longer be included in the multiyear average, meaning the Cougars would have to post an especially bad score to face any sort of sanctions.

Here is the APR info for all the WSU athletic teams. No other teams appear to be in danger of sanctions and the men's and women's cross country, women's basketball, women's golf, rowing  and volleyball teams all posted perfect one-year scores.

WSU ranks last in 2014 Pac-12 athletic revenues

Washington State's overall athletic revenue went up more than $7 million in 2014. However, that still left the Cougars last in the Pac-12.

 

WSU took in  $54,426,818 which ranked No. 54 in the country, according to USA Today, which released its annual examination of athletic department finances (you can check out the methodology here). Also shown is how much of the budget is subsidized by student fees, state money and direct and indirect institutional support.

While the athletic department took in significantly more money than it did in 2013, ticket sales were down by nearly $1 million and contributions fell almost $1.3 million.

Meanwhile, the expenses went up by about $16 million, and WSU spent about $13 million more on athletics than it took in ($10 million of which was paid for by start-of-year surplus), as we detailed back in January. The Cougars still spent less than every Pac-12 school besides Colorado and Utah.

Klay Thompson is first All-NBA Cougar

Klay Thompson was named to the 2014-15 All-NBA third team on Thursday, the first such honor for a graduate of Washington State University.

Thompson, along with NBA MVP teammate Stephen Curry, helped lead the Golden State Warriors to a franchise-record and NBA-best 67 regular season wins. The "Splash Brothers" and co. are currently up 1-0 over the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals.

The 25-year-old Thompson averaged a career-high 21.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.9 assists over 77 games (all starts). Furthermore, Thompson's plus/minus of +10.1 is the third-highest in the NBA.

The Cougars have put good players into the NBA before, such as Craig Ehlo, Don Collins and James Donaldson. But none achieved the individual success that Thompson can already claim.

In 2011, the Warriors made the 6-foot-7 shooting guard the 11th pick in the NBA draft, the highest selection in school history, after Thompson led the Pac-10 in scoring with 21.6 points per game as a junior.

However, his school records in 3-point field goals made (242) and 3-point attempts (620), were bested this year by senior guard DaVonté Lacy, who will now try to earn a spot in a league that a fellow WSU alum is dominating. 

Morning links: Halliday calls it a career

Spokane and Washington State quarterback Connor Halliday ended his prolific career, retiring from football just before Washington started its rookie minicamp.

John Blanchette wrote that Halliday doesn't need to explain the surprising decision, which I reported in this blog post and story.

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.

Updated: Halliday is done with football

3:55 p.m. update: Connor Halliday told 700 ESPN this afternoon that he is not injured but has decided that he is done playing football.

Connor Halliday has been rehabbing since November to prepare himself for professional football, but now appears to be finished with the sport.

Washington signed Halliday, who was not drafted, but the quarterback is no longer listed on the team's roster ahead of this weekend's minicamp. John Keim of ESPN reported this morning that Halliday may be done playing football permanently.
  

If so, the timing is curious considering the work the quarterback put in to reach this point after breaking his ankle against USC on Nov. 1. Halliday was invited to the NFL Combine but did not throw there, waiting instead to conduct his own pro day at WSU on April 1, following an extensive rehab process in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

Halliday threw well at his pro day, and Washington general manager Scot McCloughan seemed to take a lot of interest in him as a player, scouting him heavily throughout the pre-draft process.

In the past, the Spokane native has said that eventually he wants to coach high school football. His former coach at Ferris High, Jim Sharkey, says he has not spoken with Halliday about leaving football and that earlier this week he seemed excited for the chance to earn a roster spot.

I have reached out to Halliday and will update when we know more.

 

NCAA proposes rules changes to college basketball

The NCAA men's basketball rules committee has proposed some changes with the goals of reducing physicality in the sport (to increase scoring) and speed games up.

The proposals include:

  1. Reducing the shot clock to 30 seconds.
  2. Strict enforcement of defensive rules (apparently officials weren't doing this before?).
  3. Providing offensive players the same verticality protections as defensive players.
  4. Moving the restricted-area arc out from three feet to four feet.
  5. Decreasing the number of timeouts from five to four, with no more than three carrying over to the second half.
  6. Instructing officials to more strictly enforce resumption of play after timeouts and after a player fouls out.
  7. Team timeouts within 30 seconds of media timeouts will become media timeouts, with the exception of the first media timeout of the second half. 
  8. Coaches will no longer be allowed to call live-ball timeouts.
  9. The 10-second backcourt rule will no longer reset following a timeout.
  10. Eliminating the five-seconds closely guarded rule.
  11. Reducing the number of technical foul shots for hanging on the rim to one.
  12. Allowing dunks during pregame warmups.

​The committee has had some misses in recent years (the "let's never call charges" fiasco, for example) but these changes will likely be pretty popular, even if coaches are reticent to give up timeouts.These are all proposals, to become rules they must be approved by the NCAA's playing rules oversight panel on June 8.

WSU releases post-spring depth chart

For the most part, the depth chart is pretty much what we saw and reported throughout the spring. There is one notable surprise, however. David Bucannon is listed as a backup cornerback. At 6-foot, 197-pounds, the former safety is by far the biggest cornerback on the team.

The Cougars are expected to add some corners this offseason, including junior college transfer Treshon Broughton, so it will be interesting to see if Bucannon can hold onto the position in fall camp.

It's also interesting to see Andre Dillard listed as the backup left tackle. While the coaches have been pretty excited about Dillard since he first started practicing, I'd still expect Gunnar Eklund to slide over if for some reason Joe Dahl couldn't play. Despite being limited all spring, River Cracraft is still the starting Y receiver and "Dan Post" did enough to play himself into the backup position at X.

Courtesy of WSU Athletics:

Polè will attend Bengals rookie camp

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.

Connor Halliday signs with Washington

Connor Halliday wasn't selected in the NFL draft but will get his shot in the pros with Washington.

The news of his signing comes courtesy of the Baltimore Sun's Ravens reporter:

Because Halliday wasn't drafted, he was free to sign with any team that offered him a spot, allowing him to search for the team where he was most comfortable with the coaches, personnel, scheme and depth chart.

Washington makes sense for a few reasons. The organization took a long look at Halliday during the buildup to the draft and he's likely pretty comfortable with general manager Scot McCloughan and coach Jay Gruden at this point.

However, the team also has three quarterbacks under contract already: Robert Griffin III, Kirk Cousins and the recently re-signed Colt McCoy. So, Halliday will need to beat somebody out.

His college coach at Washington State, Mike Leach, certainly thinks he has the tools to succeed in the NFL. In a recent teleconference with reporters, Leach said: "I think he's got a better arm than anybody in the draft. The ball comes off his hand quicker than anybody in the draft. He's got quick feet, makes better decisions and he showed he can move the ball downfield."

Leach added: "I think he's a very good pro prospect. I hope he's not under-drafted."

Just because Halliday went undrafted doesn't mean he can't be an NFL success. NFL stars like Arian Foster, Wes Welker and quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Warren Moon all went undrafted out of college.

With pick No. 123, Mayle joins Cooper in Cleveland

So, which Browns jersey are you going to buy? The Xavier Cooper model, or the Vince Mayle edition?

Cleveland tapped the Pacific Northwest pipeline for the third time this draft Saturday morning, selecting Washington State wide receiver Vince Mayle with the 123rd pick (4th round). Yesterday evening, the Browns made WSU's Xavier Cooper their third-round choice.

The NFL has suspended Cleveland's star receiver, Josh Gordon, for at least one season and Browns management has been pretty candid about its frustration with the wideout.

Mayle, a 6-2, 224-pound bully that was a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist last season, should be able to contribute immediately to a Browns receiving corps that didn't have a 1,000-yard receiver last season and Travis Benjamin led the team with three receiving touchdowns.

Morning links: And the draft goes on

Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle will find out their professional destinations today. But Xavier Cooper already knows where he's going.

Cleveland selected Cooper with the 96th pick in the draft, which was fitting because he wore No. 96 at Washington State. We have a story and blog post on Cooper's selection. Here is some reaction to Cooper's selection and some analysis from ESPN.

When the pick was made I was covering WSU's baseball game against Arizona. It didn't go so well for the home team.

Cleveland takes Xavier Cooper with the 96th pick

PULLMAN—Xavier Cooper sat at a draft party he hosted with Tacoma football royalty and angrily texted his agent.

Told by his representatives and others that he would be a mid-to-late second round pick in the 2015 NFL draft, the third round's end was fast approaching and defensive linemen were flying off the board, none of them him.

"I was getting ready to shut the party down to be honest," Cooper said.

Fellow Wilson High graduates and current NFL players Desmond and Isaiah Trufant and their parents, waited anxiously beside him, wondering when their fellow Ram would discover his professional destination.

To work through his stress, Cooper called a nephew, currently incarcerated. So he was busy when the Cleveland Browns made a trade with the New England Patriots to acquire the 96th pick in the draft, the one that would end his long wait.

With the 96th pick, Cleveland selected the Washington State defensive lineman, adding him to a draft class that already included Washington's Danny Shelton and Utah's Nate Orchard.

Last year the Cleveland defensive line room was full of injuries. This year it will be full of Pac-12 alumni.

While Cooper played primarily at defensive end for WSU, the Browns are expected to use him as an interior player and the team website lists him as a defensive tackle. It's likely Cleveland plans to pair him with the much larger Shelton to provide a pass rush in the middle of their defense.

"They plan on using me right next to him," Cooper said. "Danny's more of a nose tackle, I'm more of a three technique. We're both different players but us together, you're talking about what could be one of the best defensive lines in the national football league for years to come."

In fact, the Browns liked that idea so much they traded up in the draft to select Cooper, taking the 96th pick from the Patriots along with a seventh-round selection in exchange for Cleveland's fourth, fifth and sixth rounders.

While Cooper and Shelton both grew up on the west side of the state – Shelton attended Auburn High – the Cougar said that he never knew the Washington nose tackle growing up.

But Cooper trained with former Huskies Marcus Peters and Shaq Thompson, and Desmond Trufant played with Shelton in college as well, and he said all gave glowing references.

His selection makes Cooper the highest-drafted WSU defensive lineman since Dorian Boose and Leon Bender were drafted in the second round of the 1998 draft. He is the first Cougars defensive lineman drafted since the Tennessee Titans selected Rien Long in the fourth round of the 2003 draft.

He started the final 34 of the 36 games he played for the Cougars, leading the team with 9.5 tackles for loss as a redshirt junior this past season, also collecting 37 tackles and five sacks.

"I really felt like he was a difference maker," said Browns general manager Ray Farmer. "The guy played with an unbelievable motor. Ran and hustled to the ball. Showed that quick first-step explosion to beat and block and get upfield. I think the guy has a chance to be a really good NFL player."

Still waiting to be selected are former Cougars Connor Halliday and Vince Mayle, who each will hope to be selected on Saturday as the draft concludes with rounds 4-7. Perhaps boding well for Halliday is that Washington acquired picks No. 112, No. 167 and No. 181 from the Seattle Seahawks as part of a trade on Friday.

The Redskins have been linked to Halliday throughout the draft evaluation process, perhaps more than any other team.

Morning links: Pac-12 sends nine to the NFL

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.

Morning links: Peterson named to Hampshire Honor Society

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.

WSU wraps up spring football

Washington State practiced for the 15th and final time this spring on Tuesday.

I confess, I didn't watch all of practice because I'm also covering the Pac-12 golf championships at Palouse Ridge. But here are some things I saw, and some other things we learned while watching the Cougars this spring:

— Some backups that have come on strong in recent practices appear to have grasped positions with the second unit, for now at least. Chandler Leniu looks like a strong backup for Peyton Pelluer at Mike linebacker, although don't discount Aaron Porter once he arrives this summer. Linebacker actually looks like one of WSU's strongest positions heading into next season. Pelluer and Jeremiah Allison both played well in their more traditional roles, and the Rush linebackers will be one of the most talented, deepest units next year.

I also think Carlos Freeman is likely to stick at backup center. He's got some nasty to him that the coaches like and, a former wrestler, he's got some athleticism, too. I'm not sure I see him beating out Riley Sorenson, who has uncommon size and athleticism for the position, to say nothing of a year of starting experience. But the sophomore will be a player to watch along the line.

Colton Teglovic has held off all challenges at the No. 2 nickelback spot backing up Darius Lemora, and today I saw Deion Singleton running with the twos at cornerback. BUT…

— Singleton will not be eligible to play next season and will sit out as an academic redshirt. The defensive back had some grade issues coming out of high school and that's believed to be why he wasn't on the team this past season despite signing as a member of the 2014 recruiting class.  Starting in 2016, the NCAA will institute something called an "academic redshirt," that will allow some students to receive financial aid and be held to lower academic stands for their first year as long as they redshirt.

Mike Leach told me after practice that Singleton redshirting was a condition for getting him into school. So it's likely that Singleton is a nonqualifier who was granted a partial approval of a waiver. That means that he cannot compete next season but can receive financial aid and practice. If this is the case with Singleton, it means the NCAA believes there were mitigating circumstances in his failure to qualify and his academic record makes it seem likely that he will be academically successful.

— The Cougars bounced around and all that during team period. Peyton Bender completed an early pass to D.J. Thompson, who made a bunch of guys miss as he reversed course and cut upfield. However, he fumbled at the end of the run, although I think the ground caused the fumble. Bender completed eight of his first nine passes, the 10th was a drop, and then two more after that. Pat Porter showed up with a nice pass breakup in tight coverage of Gabe Marks in the end zone, and Dylan Hanser followed with a sack. Bender had the final say, though, hitting Thompson in the end zone for a touchdown.

I had Falk going 7-of-10 with a 10-yard scramble and a sack by Kache Palacio. He hit Gerard Wicks on a wheel route out of the backfield for about a 12-yard touchdown. Wicks was wide open due to some defensive miscommunication. Charleston White had a nice pass breakup.

— More than anything, even the quarterbacks, this spring was about the defense. Alex Grinch got his first 15 practices as defensive coordinator, and he's been pretty blunt about the fact that the defense isn't quite what he's used to working with in the SEC. But, to my eye the defense is getting better, especially at closing to the ball, and I think he's seeing the same thing.

I asked him after practice today if he was feeling good about the defense and he said, "No, quite honestly. But by the same token, they're getting better. The work that we'll do both on their own and this summer will be crucial." He emphasized that the defense needs to be better on the first day of fall camp than they are today and it's obvious that he thinks that a lot of what will determine whether or not the defense will be improved next year will be what happens this summer.

Grinch's energy has been good for the defense, it seems and the players seem to respond to him. They certainly say they do (what else are they gonna say, right?). But where Grinch has really stood out so far this spring is his emphasis on individual technique, mostly with the secondary, and we've seen that show up recently in the improved play of guys like Charleston White, Deion Singleton and Marcellus Pippins.

Safety could still be a little better and it's not going to help Sulaiman Hameed's development that he spent most of spring football limited. Isaac Dotson is a big-hitter and his coverage has improved, but I'm not sure he's a great open-field tackler yet. You could see a little tentativeness when he closed on Kyrin Priester during the spring game, and Priester was able to make a move and get by him. Sure, Priester's a good receiver. There are a lot of good receivers in the Pac-12.

But I do think Dotson will be an improvement at safety and Hameed  has some good tools if he's healthy. Shalom Luani's arrival should help the Cougars on the back end, too.

— The bulk of WSU's special teams struggles last season were related to coverage issues and I do think that will be a lot better. Once Eric Mele became the special teams coach midseason a lot of those issues cleared up, and the Cougars drilled kickoff and punt coverage a fair amount this spring. But the kicking/punting game will be a worry until it isn't.

The Cougars effectively went through spring without a punter. Erik Powell did a yeoman's job filling in considering he hasn't done it since high school, but didn't do enough where I would be comfortable sending him out in a tight game if I was a coach. After him, the punters were Frankie Luvu and a Jugs machine, and Luvu was limited for most of the spring.

Maybe the Jugs machine still has some eligibility?

The Cougars will doubtlessly bring in punters but if it was that easy to find someone off the street than everyone would do it. The hope is that incoming kicker Matt Abramo can suffice as a freshman and maybe he can. Again, we'll see. Abramo will get every chance to contribute early at kicker as well, since Quentin Breshears didn't have an incredible spring and badly missed a short putt in the spring game. Powell looked a little better, but lost his starting job early last season. So either one of those two needs to improve significantly or the Cougars could be relying on a freshman at both positions.

— The guy with the safest spot on the team is left tackle Joe Dahl. Dahl hasn't gotten enough ink this spring, but he's been crushing people in every practice and has been a rock for the Cougars. Very few sacks come from the quarterback's blind side when the first string offensive line is in the game and having a cornerstone left tackle will make whoever plays quarterback next season's job a lot easier.