Introducing Former 'Horns in the NFL
This week we are debuting our newest weekly feature for Texas Gamedayr: the Monday Morning Pro-Back. This feature will aim to focus on former Longhorns who have made the leap to the pros and how they perform week-by-week.
Leagues such as the MLB, NHL and NBA will be covered weekly when applicable, but with the 2012 NFL season underway, this first iteration of the MMPB will focus on the offseasons and first weeks of the more prominent Longhorn alums in America's most followed sport.
Jamaal Charles is one of the most electrifying running backs in the league and was nominated to take the mantle of the best at his position in the entire NFL. This was an opinion shared by many before the 2011 season, until the former track star tore his ACL during Week 2. With a fresh start in 2012, this belief may still ring true. Now healthy and paired with a rejuvenated Peyton Hillis in the Kansas City Chiefs backfield, Charles will have every chance to match his outstanding production from the 2010 season.
Charles works best in a tandem backfield, so although his limited carries won’t make him a "workhorse" back by any means, every touch he gets will make him a threat to hit the end zone. He is easily the best offensive Longhorns' football player in the league, and this year could spell out big things for him and a young Chiefs' team.
In Kansas City's loss to the Atlanta Falcons, Charles carried more than half of the team's designed run plays, accounting for 87 yards rushing on 16 carries (5.4 yards per carry). Those concerned that Charles is not the same back from 2010 were able to breath a little easier after a 46-yard explosion in the contest. Fans should expect great things from him as the season goes on and Kansas City's offense begins to mesh.
Fellow Chief Derrick Johnson got his first, and very deserving, All-Pro bid last year for his sensational season with the Chiefs. Patrick Willis has wrangled the best middle linebacker in the league title from Ray Lewis, but don’t think that Johnson isn’t nipping at his heels.
To no one’s surprise, Johnson led his team in tackles, totaling eight against the Falcons. Despite allowing Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez to score in the red zone, Johnson was everywhere on the field making plays. His banged-up unit allowed 40 points, mostly through the air, so when Johnson wasn’t helping in coverage, he was aiding in holding this multi-dimensional offense to under 100 yards rushing.
While last year was a big disappointment for Cedric Benson in his final season with the Bengals, he finally found a new home late in free agency with the NFC favorite Green Bay Packers. Known for their passing attack, Benson should have many holes to work with throughout the year.
Against the stout 49ers run defense on Sunday, however, he could barely breathe, only accounting for 18 rushing yards on nine carries. He hadn’t touched the ball at all during preseason, so a rough start was to be expected. The Packers look to develop a better-rounded offense, and hope Benson can emerge as their answer.
2011 was what many considered the year of the tight end. It was a record-breaking year for studs such as Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Former Longhorn Jermichael Finley hopes to join their ranks in 2012.
Despite having a lot of mouths to feed in Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers hit Finley for seven catches for a total of 47 yards and a score in their loss to San Francisco on Sunday, 30-22. Finley should take solace in the fact that, although the Niners’ defense hounded each and every route-runner, Rodgers still targeted him 11 times, the most on the team. Repeat performances like Sunday’s are great stepping-stones in Finley’s quest to reach an All-Pro level of play.
No, Brian Orakpo isn’t just the man in that horrendous Geico caveman commercial. He’s grown into one of the most feared pass-rushing linebackers in the league, and on Sunday, his task was getting to one of the best quarterbacks under center: Drew Brees. His Redskins were more than up to the task, upsetting the Saints in New Orleans by the score of 40-32. There is no “stopping” that Saints offense, but Orakpo led a stout effort in slowing them down enough for their rookie quarterback, RGIII, to lead them to victory. Although only notching two tackles, he was consistently asked to drop back into pass coverage, making sure Brees’ variety of threats, including Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles, were covered in the center and flats of the field.
This is Sergio Kindle’s last chance to make a mark on the Baltimore Ravens defense. Age is the biggest issue facing this infamous defense, so Kindle was expected to make a strong mark early after being drafted in the second round, and simply put, he hasn’t. He hasn't recorded a single tackle at the professional level and barely even made the roster this year.
With 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs, out indefinitely with an injury, Kindle will hopefully get reps and attempt to fill the huge void left. Pass rushing is crucial to this team’s success, so look for Kindle to play hungry and keep the hard-hitting tradition alive for this defense. 2012 is huge for him, and it begins tonight against the division-rival Bengals.
Sam and Emmanuel Acho
The Acho brothers, who play for the Arizona Cardinals and Cleveland Browns, were quite the tandem when they wore the burnt orange. Now in the NFL, they aspire to slowly develop a niche in their respective defenses.
Emmanuel was unfortunately placed on IR after an injury during his second preseason game. His rookie year ended before it even started, but he will compete for a roster spot in 2013.
Sam, on the other hand, quietly registered seven sacks during his rookie season. Despite a great first year, Sam Acho only accumulated one solo tackle in his hard-hitting matchup with the Seattle Seahawks. His pass rushing ability and nose for the ball handler will have to improve if he wants this Cardinals' defense to make any noise in the NFC West.
Lastly, we feature a quarterback who unfortunately we will NOT see much of this season: Colt McCoy. With the release of Seneca Wallace, it has been solidified that McCoy will be the backup quarterback to rookie Brandon Weeden on the Cleveland Browns. Barring an injury, the Browns will be handing their offense over to two rookies: the former Oklahoma State star and their other first-round pick, Alabama running back Trent Richardson, for the rest of the season.
Despite what the scoreboard suggests, Weeden’s first go-round wasn’t pretty. He put up a measly 5.1 QB rating after a four-interception performance against the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s only been one game, but repeats of Sunday’s production could spell trouble for Weeden’s tenure behind center.
Scenes from Saturday >> Texas Longhorns vs New Mexico Lobos