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Cougs in the NFL: Shalom Luani making an early impact for Oakland Raiders

Former Washington State safety Shalom Luani (26) during Oakland’s NFL preseason football game against the Arizona Cardinals on Aug. 12, in Glendale, Ariz. (Rick Scuteri / AP)
Former Washington State safety Shalom Luani (26) during Oakland’s NFL preseason football game against the Arizona Cardinals on Aug. 12, in Glendale, Ariz. (Rick Scuteri / AP)

Time will tell whether the Oakland Raiders made the right or wrong picks in the 2017 NFL draft, but if two preseason games are any indication, they’re at least getting some bang for their buck from a seventh rounder out of Washington State.

Shalom Luani has at the very least satisfied, and probably exceeded, expectations set for him when the Raiders selected the ex-Cougar safety with the 221st overall pick of the draft.

In losses to the Arizona Cardinals and Los Angeles Rams, Luani has shown many of the same qualities that made him a two-year starter in the Pac-12 and an all-conference first team selection. Even though the game’s sped up, he still has an innate sense for the football and he still hits with the venom of a middle linebacker.

“Shalom did a nice job, he’s a really instinctive young man, a ball magnet, tracks the ball, active,” coach Jack Del Rio told local media four days after the preseason opener. “He did some things in special teams that were pretty good too. He’s one of those young players you’re excited about developing and it was a good start for him.”

Luani’s debut in a Raider uniform came on Aug. 12 against Arizona. He finished the game as Oakland’s second-leading tackler (6), defended one pass and recovered a fumble. Against St. Louis, he made three more tackles and nearly grabbed an interception in the end zone.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, Luani “appears on solid ground for being on the 53-man roster as a special teams player.” But his knack for the football could make the 6-2, 202-pound Luani an option in the secondary, too.

“Just got to find the ball,” he told the Mercury News. “See ball, get ball. That’s all it is.”

Luani unintentionally made local headlines following the Rams game for kneeling during the national anthem – a gesture many NFL players have used recently to protest racial injustice. According to Ann Killion of the San Francisco Chronicle, Luani was misunderstood and had gone down to one knee to pray, not protest.

Below is a rundown of other ex-Washington State players currently in NFL camps.

Deone Bucannon

Outside linebacker, Arizona Cardinals – An established three-year starter, Bucannon isn’t in danger of losing his place on the roster, or even the depth chart, but an ankle ailment has forced him to sit out the Cardinals’ first two preseason games. Bucannon, who underwent ankle surgery in May, was activated from the physically unable to perform list on Tuesday, though he isn’t able to practice yet. Bucannon, who has 286 tackles in three seasons, hasn’t missed a start since 2014, but the former Coug may be forced to when the Cardinals open the season.

“We haven’t been counting on Deone,” coach Bruce Arians said. “That’s going to be a blessing (if he plays).”

Gabe Marks

Wide receiver, New York Jets – The Pac-12’s all-time receptions leader didn’t see his nam on the box score after New York’s preseason opener versus Tennessee but had one reception for nine yards in a recent game against Detroit. Marks, a rookie who signed a free agent deal after being undrafted, isn’t a lock to make the 53-man roster, but he did catch the eye of an NFL great who spent his career playing the same position.

“He finished well, he caught the ball well, he has some giddy-up in his step,” former Carolina and Baltimore standout Steve Smith said after spending a day at Jets camp while working with NFL Network. “A lot of these guys, they’re young, they want to make an impact, and that’s a great thing. When you got young guys that are fat and happy, that’s not good. When you got young guys who are hungry, that’s a great thing.”

Joe Dahl

Offensive lineman, Detroit Lions – He played in only six games as a rookie, but now Dahl has the chance to vie for a starting spot on the Lions offensive line. The former USA Today Second-Team All-American who came to WSU from Spokane’s University High got the start at right guard in the preseason opener at Indianapolis. An injury to left tackle Taylor Decker has moved Dahl to that spot for the time being, though he could still start at guard when the season starts.

“(Dahl’s) coming along,” coach Jim Caldwell told Sports Illustrated. “He’s now getting a chance to play multiple positions, and Joe’s one of those guys that’s smart. He knows, really, every position on the line. He’s played a little center, played a little guard, obviously. He can play a little tackle for us, so that’ll benefit him.”

Kache Palacio

Linebacker, Seattle Seahawks – The linebacker was Seattle’s top tackler in a 48-17 preseason opener against the Chargers, recording five takedowns on defense and two more on special teams. He had a respectable showing in the latest game against Minnesota with three more tackles and half of a sack, but on a Seahawks team stocked with defenders, it’s unlikely Palacio makes the cut when Seattle releases the 53-man roster on Sept. 2. Even is Palacio isn’t in Seattle this fall, his time with one of the league’s elite defenses has been valuable.

“I learned from Bobby (Wagner) and K.J. (Wright), they took me under their wing and taught me to be a pro,” Palacio told The Seattle Times. “… That’s one thing they teach me, to elevate my game.”

Marquess Wilson

Wide receiver, New York Jets – Wilson had some good moments during a four-year stint with Chicago – including a 102-yard receiving game in 2015 – but the wideout’s time in the Windy City was also marred by injury. The former Cougar signed with the New York Jets on June 20 and caught three balls for 20 yards against Tennessee, but a hip injury forced him to sit out against Detroit seven days later. Accoridng to CBS Sports, he “likely is fighting for one of the last receiver slots on the Jets‘ depth chart, and his absence from practice won’t help his cause.”

Destiny Vaeao

Defensive tackle, Philadelphia Eagles – Vaeao was an undrafted rookie last season but didn’t play like it. The defensive tackle made the Philly roster and played in all 16 games, recording 15 tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble. He was the fourth defensive tackle on the Eagles depth chart in 2016, but could jump to No. 3 this season, according to PennLive.com’s Aaron Kasinitz.

“I’m still doing what I’ve always done,” Vaeao told Kasinitz. “Playing as hard as I can and trying to get better. Nothing’s different in that way.”

Xavier Cooper

Defensive lineman, Cleveland Browns – The Browns’ third-round draft pick of 2015 is currently the third defensive tackle on the team’s “unofficial depth chart,” which was released before the preseason opener versus New Orleans. But even with two starts and 13 total appearances last season, it doesn’t seem that Cooper has a place in the 53 locked down. He had one tackle in Monday night’s preseason meeting against the Saints and will have to perform well in the final two preseason games to guarantee a spot on the roster for the third straight season.

John Fullington

Offensive lineman, New Orleans Saints – Fullington, playing with his fourth NFL team, inked a reserve/future contract with New Orleans in January, though he’s yet to play an official NFL snap. This may Fullington’s best chance. He didn’t dress against the Chargers, but did play 62 snaps in the preseason opener against the Browns.

Fullington, a Bremerton, Washington, native told the Kitsap Sun: “My mindset is just getting better and making the friggin’ team. I’m going into my fourth year. When people are like, ‘You play in the NFL … Well I’ve been on the practice squad for three years.”

Vince Mayle

Wide receiver, Baltimore Ravens – The former WSU wideout reeled in one catch for 17 yards in week two of the preseason, but making the 53-man roster still appears to be an uphill battle for someone on his third NFL team in as many years. Per the Baltimore Sun, Mayle, a tight end, is currently fourth on the Ravens depth chart.

Dom Williams

Wide receiver, Philadelphia Eagles – Philadelphia signed Williams this offseason, but an Achilles injury has moved the former Cougar receiver to the IR list. He’s yet to appear in a preseason game for the Eagles.

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