Less Heralded Players Have Shined in Preseason
by Trevor Whenham - 08/31/2006
The preseason is, mercifully, almost over. There have been players that have had exceptional starts. We have heard all about them. I'm not going to write yet another article talking about how Carson Palmer tore up the field in his first game back from injury, how T.J. Houshmandzadeh has been catching everything anywhere near him, that Tom Brady showed Washington why he is Tom Brady and how Drew Bledsoe has been impressive in holding off a potential challenge from Tony Romo. I'm sick of hearing about those performances, especially when there have been other, less heralded players who have turned in impressive showings in the endless string of games that we have to endure before the real season starts.
Before we get too excited, we have to really look at how much the preseason really matters. The answer is: not that much. Some teams don't take the preseason very seriously and don't play their starters - the Steelers are so concerned about their 0-3 preseason record that Ben Roethlisberger and Willie Parker aren't even playing in the team's last game. Big Ben has only thrown 36 passes all preseason. On the other hand, Oakland is 4-0. If you think that the Raiders' record makes them the best team in the league, then you are going to have a rude awakening when the season starts. Where the preseason does matter, however, is that we get to see how young or marginal players react when they get some real playing time. With that in mind, here are some of the players that aren't making headlines that have been impressive in the preseason:
Michael Turner, RB, San Diego - LaDanian Tomlinson is supposed to be the Chargers running back that everyone is talking about, but apparently no one told this third year player from Northern Illinois that has just 439 yards rushing in his career. Turner had turned just 23 carries into 151 yards, for an eye-popping average of 6.6 yards per carry, and he has scored three times. Obviously he won't start during the season, but Chargers fans have to feel better about the prospects if something were to happen to their star back.
Matt Cassel, QB, New England - Like Turner, Cassel will see very little time behind a superstar starter, but the former USC backup has shown that he can be relied upon if he has to be. He's passed for 484 yards, completed well over 60 percent of his 54 passes, connected on three touchdowns with no picks, and is at the top of the league in passer rating. He's been way more poised and in control than you would expect of a player who didn't really even play in college.
Matt Leinart, QB, Arizona - Leinart has looked as good as Cassel, his backup at USC. He's put up impressive numbers in two games (19-of-32, 189 yards and a TD), which is especially impressive considering he missed a good portion of camp because he was pouting over his contract. He's grasped the playbook much better than the soon-to-be father apparently grasps birth control. He's been poised and hasn't panicked under pressure. Kurt Warner will start the season as No. 1, but my bet is that Leinart will assume that position before the year is out.
DeAngelo Williams, RB, Carolina - In one game Panthers fans fell in love with their draft pick. His nine carries yielded 41 yards against the Dolphins, for a decent average of more than 4.5 yards, but he is not being talked about for that. He fielded a Miami kickoff on the two-yard line, made a sick cut up the middle, and stopped running when he made the endzone. No one had come close to touching him. Williams hadn't shown much spark before that moment, but all was forgiven and Williams Fever was born.
Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans - Colston was drafted out of Hofstra with the 252nd pick, just four spots before the draft ended. Hopes obviously weren't high for him, but he has been incredible throughout camp and has now likely earned the starting spot that opened up when the team traded Donte Stallworth away. The Saints wouldn't have jettisoned their top receiver from last year if they didn't have confidence in Colston.
Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay - The Packers deserve a bright spot. The second round pick out of Western Michigan has led the NFL in receiving in the preseason with 11 catches for 239 yards and a TD. That 21.7-yard average isn't shabby at all. To add to his versatility and appeal, he made good on his only attempt at returning kicks, carrying for 27 hard earned yards. It was so good that the coaches are openly talking about his chances of replacing the disappointing Charles Woodson on returns.
J.P. Losman, QB, Buffalo - Losman has taken a lot of abuse in the press, and he lost his job to Kelly Holcomb last year. However, he has been impressive in earning it back this preseason. He's gone 37-of-57 for 462 yards and two touchdowns. He has tossed two picks, but that is less of a concern now than it would have been last year. He's shown an unexpected amount of poise and maturity, standing in the pocket and looking for a viable receiver instead of panicking and scrambling like he did in the past. He's also discovered accuracy that we didn't know he had. He has run away with a quarterback race that many didn't expect him to win. His team will still be awful, but it won't be his fault nearly as much as it was last year.
Randy Moss, WR, Oakland - How bizarre is it that hardly anyone is talking about Moss these days? He may have to run over someone with his car again just to rip some headlines away from T.O. His team is destined to be terrible, but he has quietly looked good in the preseason. In the team's game against Detroit, Moss caught three passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns. The quarterback situation will be a mess (Jeff George?!?), but Moss is showing the potential to get his career back onto the amazing path it has been on before a couple of sub-par (for him) years.