Preseason openers, like Trix, are for kids. Preseason openers, more than anything, are to find out if the rookie that shined in minicamps and the first two weeks of training camp can do the same on a larger stage.
Yet through the first part of camp, enough rookies have caught the attention of enough teams. See Johnson, Calvin –- but isn’t that obvious?
In an effort to go a bit beyond the obvious, an NFL Network reporter sent out e-mails this week to about a dozen teams, inquiring to see which rookies had stood out.
Here's a sampling of responses regarding some of the rookies. Others will jump out in the games and weeks to come. But here's who has emerged so far:
Marshawn Lynch, RB, Buffalo Bills: Pencil him in as Buffalo's opening-day starter. The 12th overall pick in the draft, Lynch has made Buffalo forget that Willis McGahee played there. Lynch is quick, elusive and like Buffalo's Hall-of-Fame running back Thurman Thomas, can be as much of a weapon in the passing game. Of all the rookies, running backs have the best chance to make the most immediate impact. Mark down Lynch as the early-season favorite to win the Offensive Rookie of the Year award.
|Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images|
|Greg Olsen appears ready to emerge as the Bears' latest big playmaker.|
Greg Olsen, TE, Chicago Bears: In the long line of Miami tight ends that includes Bubba Franks, Jeremy Shockey and Kellen Winslow, Olsen looks as if he has the chance to be the best of them all. At camp, he has routinely made difficult catches, long catches, touchdown catches, all kinds of catches. In Chicago's offense, Olsen has the chance to do almost as much for the Bears this season as Lynch can do for the Bills. With his speed, Olsen can get downfield better than most tight ends. Chicago's third-round pick Michael Okwo and fifth-round pick Kevin Payne also have gotten noticed, but not like Olsen, who never should have fallen as far as he did in the first round (31st overall).
James Jones, WR, Green Bay Packers: Last year the Packers nabbed Greg Jennings out of Western Michigan in the second round; this year they got Jones out of San Jose State in the third. The two receivers have the chance to be the type of players quarterback Brett Favre wishes he could have thrown to throughout his career. The Packers believe Jones has made more early in-camp catches than former Packer star wideouts Robert Brooks or Antonio Freeman did. He has made acrobatic long catches and demonstrated he has the proper demeanor to succeed in this league. Jones doesn't have the game-breaking speed, but he runs great routes. Jones, who led the Packers with six catches for 58 yards in the team's preseason opener against Pittsburgh, could wind up taking veteran Robert Ferguson’s job.
Samson Satele, C, Miami Dolphins: The 60th player selected, Satele is expected to have more of an impact this season than wide receiver Ted Ginn and quarterback John Beck, Miami's two higher-profile selections. Satele is expected to be the Dolphins' starting center on Opening Day and, if the organization is right, he could be the centerpiece of the offensive line for the next dozen years. Satele is smart, tough and driven, and he already is making calls for the entire offensive line. Satele has short arms –- not ideal for an offensive lineman –- but he is long on potential.
Alan Branch, DT, Arizona Cardinals: Before the draft, Branch slid from a top-10 pick to the 33rd selection. Arizona traded up to get him and now team officials are saying that Branch has a real chance to perform like the top-10 pick he was projected to be. He is big, athletic and quick. But one reason he dropped in the draft was his lack of intensity on every play at Michigan. Still, Branch has shown enough this summer to make the Cardinals think they are as fortunate to get him as they were to get Matt Leinart last year, when the USC quarterback fell. Arizona also is extremely pleased with punt returner Steve Breaston, another Michigan man. From the early looks of it, Ann Arbor turned out to be real kind to the Cardinals.
Jared Gaither, OT, Baltimore Ravens: –- Baltimore forfeited a fifth-round pick in 2008 when it selected Gaither in the fifth round of July’s supplemental draft. The baffling part is how so many teams let the 6-foot-9, 325-pound Gaither slide past them. He was troubled at Maryland, but he also was immensely talented. And that talent has been readily apparent in Baltimore’s camp, where the Ravens think they just might have found the successor for Jonathan Ogden –- at a bargain-basement price.
LaMarr Woodley, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers: Already assigned No. 55, which belonged to a rather prominent Steeler the past eight seasons, Woodley is playing like the next great Steelers linebacker. Coach Mike Tomlin admitted last weekend in Canton, Ohio, that Woodley has impressed. He has made plays since training camp opened, many rushing the quarterback, and he continued doing as much in Pittsburgh's preseason opening win over New Orleans.
Marcus McCauley, CB, Minnesota Vikings: Another player who once was projected as a top-10 pick, McCauley slid out of the first two rounds and to the Vikings with the 72nd overall selection. Since then, he has demonstrated the maturity and ball-hawking skills that has left Minnesota thinking it has found itself a bargain. Interceptions have come to McCauley on an almost daily basis. Now Minnesota is eager to see if he can do the same in games.
Stewart Bradley, LB, Philadelphia Eagles: While most Eagles fans are focused in on second-round pick Kevin Kolb, Bradley has impressed Philadelphia and is now pushing Chris Gocong for a starting job. Bradley is looking more and more like a third-round find on a pick the Eagles acquired from the Dallas Cowboys. He moves well for a man his size. With Takeo Spikes also at linebacker, the Eagles should be vastly improved at a position they needed an upgrade.
Zac Diles, LB, Houston Texans: Ordinarily, seventh-round picks do not jump out. But ordinarily, seventh-round picks do not make the amount of plays Diles has this summer. Diles is a big hitter who has made his presence felt. The Texans say Diles is having “a really good camp,” and the fact that they have noticed a seventh-round pick is one tip the former Kansas State standout has a chance to win playing time this summer.
Kolby Smith, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: The 148th selection is in familiar territory. Former Broncos running back Terrell Davis was drafted with the 196th overall pick in 1995. The Chiefs say Smith has excelled this summer. Maybe that has something to do with leverage in contract talks with holdout running back Larry Johnson. Smith is a versatile back who successfully replaced the injured Michael Bush at Louisville. Now he will get the chance in Kansas City's preseason games to become another notable replacement back.
Craig Davis, WR, San Diego Chargers: With veteran wide receiver Eric Parker out for at least the first month of the season, Davis is going to be asked to make plays early on for this Super Bowl-contending team. He has the speed and hands, and they've been evident in camp. Now Davis will need to do it in games. If he can, the Chargers could have an ideal complement to the bigger wide receiver Vincent Jackson.