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Abe Lucas could’ve embarked on his NFL career this week. Instead, Washington State’s standout tackle returned to school to improve ‘between the ears’

Washington State offensive lineman Abraham Lucas, right, runs through drills during a spring practice April 8 in Pullman.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

PULLMAN – As of Thursday afternoon, at least one NFL draft-specific website still had Washington State right tackle Abraham Lucas erroneously listed as a potential Day 3 selection in the 2021 event.

At 6:20 p.m., approximately 10 minutes after the Detroit Lions chose Oregon’s Penei Sewell with the seventh overall pick of the 2021 draft, the player who may be in line to take over as the Pac-12’s top offensive tackle – the title Sewell held for at least two seasons in Eugene – popped up on a Zoom screen wearing sweatpants and a Washington State-branded “War Daddy” T-shirt.

The fact some thought Lucas had entered the 2021 NFL draft probably brings into question the validity and research conducted in the ever-growing mock draft universe.

But it also speaks to the magnitude of the decision WSU’s redshirt senior offensive lineman faced three months ago.

Lucas could have joined Sewell as one of two or three tackles from the Pac-12 taken in this year’s draft, though his wait may have been 24 to 48 hours longer than the one Oregon’s All-American had Thursday in Cleveland. Instead, Lucas put his pro football dreams on hold for at least another 365 days.

Time will tell if he can catapult into Sewell territory prior to the 2022 NFL draft, but someone who has spent much of the past four years rebuilding his body to withstand the physical play of Power Five football indicated he needed eight months to refine his mental approach to the game.

“I talked with my family a lot; ultimately I made the choice for myself. I didn’t let anybody influence it,” Lucas told reporters after the final day of WSU spring camp.

“I just felt like I wasn’t ready. I felt like there was more I could learn. Physically, I’m a big guy and all that, but it’s about what you do between your ears that’ll take you far and I don’t have all the pieces I want to have yet.

“I figured this year would be great to hit the film harder than I ever had, especially this summer. That’s going to be my point of emphasis.”

Being able to digest film is one thing, but Lucas anticipates that during the lead-up to his NFL draft process he’ll be asked to describe to others what he’s seeing . Often, draft prospects are given a dry erase marker and tasked with drawing various protections, looks and schemes on a whiteboard.

Lucas feels he needs to be more proficient there, too.

“Then the chalk talk, being able to get on the board, write stuff done, call fronts,” Lucas said. “Calling fronts isn’t necessarily something I do from the right tackle spot. It’s more of a center’s job, but to know that is extremely helpful in the world of football. So just to get better at those types of things.”

And what about the significance of Lucas’ return from WSU’s perspective?

“I mean, it’s nice having the best tackle in the Pac-12 come back,” center Brian Greene said. “That’s for sure.”

Lucas has twice been named to the Outland Trophy watch list, was an All-Pac-12 second-team selection as a sophomore and junior and was considered an All-Pac-12 first-teamer in 2020 by the Associated Press. His return fortifies an offensive line that only loses one starter, right guard Josh Watson, and returns 68 combined starts among Lucas (30), left tackle Liam Ryan (30), left guard Jarrett Kingston (four) and Greene (four).

“I think for the talent and history of playing that Abe Lucas had coming into the spring,” WSU head coach Nick Rolovich said, “I think he even played better.”

For two or three weeks following WSU’s season finale at Utah, the social media-less Lucas kept fans in the dark regarding his decision to return – perhaps leading to an assumption from mock draft sites that he would move on to the NFL.

The big, soft-spoken offensive lineman scrubbed his phone of social media applications last year as a way to eliminate distractions – “I still have Facebook, but that’s for old people,” Lucas said – and only told those in his immediate circle about his decision to come back. Greene was unaware until he sent his fellow lineman a text message inquiring about his decision.

“A week later, I saw all of you guys on Twitter and you’re like, ‘We don’t know if Abe Lucas is coming back,’ ” Greene said.

Lucas was a perfect match for Mike Leach’s Air Raid system. In 2019, he graded out as the second-best pass-blocking tackle in the country, according to Pro Football Focus.

In some ways, Lucas enters a whole new world with Rolovich’s run-and-shoot offense, which uses tighter splits than Leach’s scheme and gives its linemen more opportunities to block for the run.

In 2019, ex-WSU tackle Andre Dillard was selected in the first round of the draft despite playing exclusively in a passing offense, but Lucas’ experience in both systems should make him a more well-rounded player and prospect.

“I think he assessed the situation, and you probably have to ask him, but I think he enjoys the offense,” Rolovich said. “I think it was a little bit new for him, some more in the run game and again, this is just my opinion, but I think he saw, got a little taste of doing some other things, especially in the run game. But I think he was excited to continue to learn and master it.”

Mastering it may require another 12 games, but at least Lucas will be around to see it through.

“I’ve gotten a lot better I think in the running aspect,” Lucas said. “It’s not something we really did a lot of with Leach, so there wasn’t that much room to grow in it, but this spring has been very productive.”