B1G rookies shine in NFL preseason debuts
It’s one thing to get all of the cliché accolades in training camp.
“Rookie X is catching everything thrown his way.”
“Rookie Y is playing with a chip on his shoulder.”
“Rookie Z doesn’t look like a rookie at all.”
Those are easy, general tweets from NFL reporters who have nothing better to do in the first week of August. But to succeed in a preseason game, that shows more actual progress than any highlight-reel catch in camp.
That was the case for a bunch of B1G rookies who played in their first live NFL game. No, the preseason doesn’t technically count, but it certainly matters.
Here’s a rundown of how some of the notable B1G rookies fared on Thursday night:
Michael Thomas, Saints — 4 catches, 67 yards
Nobody better fit the “he’s catching everything thrown his way” cliché than Thomas. But really, he has been. Thomas did that again in his preseason debut. Perhaps more impressive than the fact that he was the team’s leading receiver was how he made his catches. Two of them were highlight-reel grabs.
Look at the adjustment he made on this ball:
Eyes on the ball. #shhhh https://t.co/7lbByg8oxh
— John Sigler (@JSiglerNFL) August 12, 2016
There were a lot of people skeptical if Thomas could be a big-play receiver. It seems like he’s done nothing in camp but make big plays downfield. But it’s obvious that the Saints trust him already. It might only be a matter of time before he’s the next dynamic playmaker in the Saints offense.
Vonn Bell, Saints — 3 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PD
It wasn’t the best debut for the former Ohio State All-American. On one hand, he make a few nice plays in the running game and got himself a TFL. But he also dropped a possible pick-six and he had a missed tackle on a long Patriots touchdown. Reports suggested that Bell’s ball-hawking skills in camp have been impressive, which they were at Ohio State. Perhaps some first-game jitters led to a couple costly mistakes.
Darron Lee, Jets — 4 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack
If you watched Lee at Ohio State, you knew that he was as good as any linebacker in the country and getting from sideline to sideline and making big-time plays. Lee showed that ability in limited time on Thursday. His sack was more a credit to Shelby Harris, but it was another example of Lee being in the right place at the right time, which he usually is. So far, nothing has made the Jets regret taking Lee in the first round.
.@DLeeMG8: "I had a lot of fun."
(We did too.) pic.twitter.com/hTekp12gVi
— New York Jets (@nyjets) August 12, 2016
Jalin Marshall, Jets — 1 kickoff return for 84 yards, 1 reception, 10 yards
How do undrafted free agents make NFL rosters? They make a big play on special teams. That’s exactly what Marshall did on Thursday. His 84-yard kickoff return was one of the highlights of the night, and it certainly wasn’t lost on the coaching staff. Marshall told me back in the pre-draft process that the biggest reason he felt he was going to stick in the NFL was because of what he can do in special teams. A lot of people said he made a major mistake by leaving after his third season in Columbus. It’s early, but plays like this only help the strong case Marshall already made to be in New York on opening day:
Word to the wise: Don’t give @JalinMarshall an opening. #JAXvsNYJhttps://t.co/BDvuleWdH8
— New York Jets (@nyjets) August 12, 2016
Christian Hackenberg, Jets — DNP
Yes, it’s noteworthy that Hackenberg didn’t play. The Jets said that it was because of a lack of snaps he’s had so far in camp. That’s probably a smart move on a variety of fronts. If he had come out guns blazing, Jets fans would’ve been enamored with the idea of him as the quarterback of the future. Inevitably, it would’ve been the story of the night. And if he didn’t perform well, which sounded likely from the lack of snaps he had, he would’ve already suffered an early blow to his confidence. The Jets are working with Hackenberg to correct some of the mental and physical mistakes that plagued his final two seasons at Penn State. They don’t want to throw him into the lions den until he’s ready for it.
Yannick Ngakoue, Jaguars — 1 tackle, 1 sack
The former Maryland star might’ve only had one tackle on the night, but he made it count. He brought down Ryan Fitzpatrick for his first NFL sack and forced a punt. Sacking a starting quarterback is always big for a rookie, because it means he can handle himself against the No. 1’s. Jaguars coach Gus Bradley likes Ngakoue’s motor, and with good reason. He was a sack machine in his final season at Maryland. Thursday will certainly help his chances at earning a spot in the Jaguars’ loaded edge-rusher rotation.
Willie Henry, Ravens — 3 tackles, 1 TFL
While some guys have been generating plenty of training camp hype, Henry wasn’t necessarily one of them. That might change after his showing on Thursday. Henry blew up a play in the backfield for a three-yard loss. He also dominated Tyler Larsen and forced some heat on Joe Webb:
Willie Henry #GoBlue https://t.co/CBLHKpavd0
— Justin Ford (@JRFord0) August 12, 2016
The takeaway from Henry’s night was that he was active. It’s hard for a rookie defensive tackle to look active, especially in a debut. But Henry showed off the motor that made him one of the better defensive tackles in the country at Michigan.
And hey, he even got to take a pic with his fellow Wolverines:
The more wolverines on your team, the better the outcome #ravens #goblue
A photo posted by Willie Henry Jr. (@umearl) on
Jordan Howard, Bears — 5 carries, 12 yards
A lot of people are expecting Howard to get some run as the Bears’ No. 2 tailback and eventually take the starting job away from former Michigan State star Jeremy Langford. For now, let’s pump the breaks on that. Bears coach John Fox is never big on playing rookies, and Howard is no exception. The All-B1G selection was the fourth Bears running back to enter the game, behind Ka’Deem Carey and Jacquizz Rodgers. Five carries for 12 yards isn’t going to turn any heads, but Howard at least made the most of the little room he was getting. For now, don’t hold your breath on Fox giving him the keys to the car.
Nate Sudfeld, Redskins — 10-for-15, 89 yards, 1 TD
While one IU rookie was given limited opportunities, another had an impressive first showing. Sudfeld threw the Redskins’ only touchdown pass of the night. Sudfeld found an open Marcel Jensen for a six-yard score. Accurate and efficient, Sudfeld was, which wasn’t surprising after watching what he did at Indiana. The sixth-round pick earned compliments from coach Jay Gruden and former MSU star Kirk Cousins for some of the tight-window throws he made. Sudfeld still has a ways to go, but he certainly helped his case to earn the No. 3 spot on the depth chart.
He certainly has one believer:
I believe in Nate Sudfeld.
— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurke_SI) August 12, 2016