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Rebels in the Pros: Week One set the tone

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Nickels and on dimes.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

After boasting a high number of training camp participants on both offense and defense, the summer’s ‘final cuts’ saw quite a few former Ole Miss players end up on practice squads, while 14 former standouts made 53-man rosters for the 2020 NFL regular season.

In a year where it was uncertain if football will be played at all, each of the 16 scheduled week one matchups were played over the weekend without a hitch. Quite a few Rebel alumni had solid performances to begin the year, here is how they fared:

Offense

  • D.K. Metcalf picked up right where he left off for the Seahawks and made for catches for 95 yards, with his longest of 38 yards going for six. *Insert obligatory three-cone drill joke here*

The 6-foot-4, 229-pound animal had a drop early but made up for it by embracing the press coverage and fending a corner off en route the end zone for points.

  • Robbed of offensive Rookie of the Year honors a season ago (he would have won if Ryan Tannehill started the season at quarterback), A.J. Brown is no longer flying under anyone’s radar.

The Broncos defense gave Brown the coverage he deserves and his first catch came on the last drive of the first half. Things picked up in the second half and No. 11 came down with five balls for 39 yards on eight targets.

  • An honorary member of the Nasty Wideouts (even though Phil Longo forgot he existed while in Oxford), Dawson Knox made a fine 2020 debut against the lowly Jets. Josh Allen was forced from the pocket late in the first half and had Knox wide open for a touchdown, but missed him high. He didn’t score, but the 23-year-old from Brentwood, Tenn. caught a pair of passes for 26 yards and continues to look like a grown man.
  • Sticking with the tight end theme, Evan Engram got his first opportunity to strut his stuff on Monday night. He took the offseason to recover from an injury that forced him out for the last few games of 2019 and is back healthy on the field.

A muffed punt early in the first quarter left the Giants on the doorstep, but an early-season miscommunication between the best tight end to ever play at Ole Miss and his quarterback Daniel Jones forced them to settle for a field goal. He finished the night with two catches for nine yards.

  • Laremy Tunsil did Laremy Tunsil things on Thursday night.
  • Bobbie Massie, Greg Little and Jordan Wilkins also suited up for their respective teams. Wilkins, who has been quietly productive in his limited career snaps with the Colts, may see his playing time rise in the coming weeks. Indianapolis starting running back Marlon Mack is out for the season, but Nyheim Hines and rookie Jonathan Taylor will top the depth chart.

Defense/Special Teams

  • Take a bow, Mike Hilton. The fourth-year Steeler finished Monday night with five tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss, a pass deflect and two quarterback hits. What really stood out was his blitz off the edge. It’s a thing of beauty. Hilton is making a heck of a living at nickel and brought down Danny Dimes in a close game on Monday night primetime.

There was also a fun moment where Hilton went one-on-one with Engram and got up talking a lot of shit. Hilton won, but there was some holding, so let’s call it a wash.

  • Myles Hartsfield played both ways in what was an impressive first training camp in the league for Carolina. He didn’t see time on either side of the ball Sunday, but made a fantastic solo tackle on special teams.
  • Another delightful surprise at defensive back, A.J. Moore was named a team captain for the Houston before the season began. He was burnt for a touchdown on a quick dig route by Kansas City tight end Travis Kelce, but he should never have been put in one-on-one coverage with the league’s best receiving tight end as a roaming safety to begin with. Moore came back later in the evening with a crucial third-down stop that gave the Texans some semblance of hope and kept them in the game for a moment.
  • D.J. Jones is coming off of an injury that ended his 2019 campaign early and rejoined a talented 49ers defensive line for Sunday’s season opener against Arizona. For someone who didn’t get quite as many snaps as his counterparts, he made his presence felt. The 300-pound defensive tackle recorded one solo tackle for loss, one sack and one quarterback hit. He also deflected a pass on third down.
  • Marquise Haynes and C.J. Moore also made opening day rosters, but the latter was inactive due to injury.