Finally, the wait is over. After six months of waiting, the NFL season has finally returned.
Even though NFL fans were blessed with the opportunity to hear about deflated footballs over the offseason, and a few weeks of preseason, nothing quite compares to games that have substance.
Since the Patriots dominated the NFL offseason, it only makes logical sense that they will kick off the NFL regular season on Thursday night.
So, which WVU Pros should you keep an eye on this weekend? Well, hopefully all of them. But if you only have time to choose a few, here is who you should watch.
1. Rams vs. Seahawks
This battle of NFC West foes will feature almost a quarter of the WVUPros in the NFL. For St. Louis, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey will be key cogs in the Rams passing game. Austin will start for the Rams as their inside receiver, and Bailey is slotted as the fourth receiver. We should expect to see Bailey on the field in passing situations, especially when the Rams go with four wide receivers.
For Seattle, Bruce Irvin returns as a starter for a defense that has been the best in the league for consecutive seasons. If the preseason is any indication, the sack specialist will see most of his time at right defensive end occasionally drop into coverage as an OLB.
Also for Seattle, rookie offensive lineman Mark Glowinski will backup the right guard JR Sweezy and could make his NFL debut depending on the flow of the game.
They meet at 1:00 PM ET on Sunday.
2. How will the rookies fare?
Besides Glowinski, WVU will have three other rookies make their debuts this Sunday. In Arizona, Shaq Riddick will be in uniform for the Cardinals. He will start the season as the third-string weak outside linebacker. Riddick, who was the Cardinals fifth-round selection, could see the field as a pass rusher in blitzing situations. Riddick was sidelined for a majority of the offseason with a hamstring injury, and it may take him longer than some rookies to prove what he can do on the field with his delayed start.
In Cincinnati, seventh-round pick Mario Alford will make his first NFL appearance. The receiver with blazing speed could see touches in a variety of ways come Sunday, as he is listed as the third-string receiver and a back-up return man. In the preseason, the Bengals showed their desire to get Alford the ball in open space, giving him end-arounds and targeting him in the passing game. It will be interesting to see how they involve Alford in their game plan now that the games actually count.
Lastly, Quinton Spain will back up both guard positions for the Tennessee Titans. Making the final cuts as an undrafted rookie was quite the accomplishment for Spain, and he seems to have a bright future on the offensive line for the Titans. A two-time All-Big12 selection, Spain will provide depth for the guards this Sunday, and should expect to see the field for a few plays.
3. Charles Sims’ Usage
After falling just short of winning the starting running back position in Tampa, Sims will still see the field on Sunday as the Buccaneers face Tennessee. In a game that will be highlighted by a battle of the top two picks in the NFL draft, an underlying storyline will be Sims usage in the Tampa Bay backfield. Sims, who is an excellent pass-catcher out of the backfield, should see targets from rookie Jameis Winston, and see the field on third-down passing situations. Sims will backup Doug Martin, and be on stand-by for whenever he is needed. Running back is a different position than others in the NFL, as the backup still plays a good deal of snaps.
The Bucs play at 4:o5 on Sunday.
4. Ryan Fitzpatrick’s performance
While Fitzpatrick has no ties to WVU, his performance will. If Fitzpatrick can lead the Jets and performs well, it might lead to the end of the Geno Smith era in New York. Fitzpatrick takes over for Smith while he sits out with a broken jaw, but head coach Todd Bowles was reluctant to say it would be Geno’s job whenever he returns. If Fitzpatrick produces, Geno may be out of chances to prove he was worth the second-round pick the Jets used on him three years ago.
Other WVUPros to watch for include: Will Johnson and Terrence Garvin (Pittsburgh), Will Clarke and Adam “Pacman” Jones (Cincinnati), JT Thomas (starting WLB for the Giants) and Don Barclay (Green Bay).