It’s extremely difficult to analyze young second and third-string players in preseason exhibition games. Facing other backups – many of whom will be out of the league in a matter of weeks – allows Travis Jervey to run like Walter Payton, Derrick Mayes to catch like Jerry Rice and Vic So’oto to sack like Deacon Jones.
That’s why it’s important to curb your enthusiasm when it comes to unproven young players – at least until they get a chance to line up against starters. Second-year cornerback Josh Hawkins got that opportunity against Washington last week and passed the test with flying colors. Now it’s time for the coaches to find out about some other upstarts and get them into a game before the field becomes populated with future AFL stars and bouncers.
The following are three young players who, based on their solid work so far this summer, deserve that chance:
Third-year defensive lineman Christian Ringo is having his best training camp, and he was borderline unblockable in the second half against Washington. The former sixth-round pick from Louisiana-Lafayette is very quick off the ball and has shown a variety of pass-rush moves and the ability to win one-on-one battles.
But Ringo has been doing it against mostly third and fourth-string guards and centers like Vinston Painter (#60) and Tyler Catalina (#68). The 25-year-old deserves a chance to show whether he can have similar success against better players. If he can, the inside pass rush might not be quite as suspect as many fear.
Speaking of the pass rush, second-year outside linebacker Reggie Gilbert has one of the team’s two sacks in August. While the former undrafted free agent from Arizona doesn’t have great explosiveness, he has prototypical size for the position and has shown the ability to convert speed to power and turn the corner.
But Gilbert’s success has come against players like John Kling (#69), a third-string former undrafted free agent. Could he be as productive against more physically talented offensive tackles? I have my doubts, but it’s important to find out. The defense needs a third outside linebacker who’s capable of stepping in for Clay Matthews or Nick Perry, and so far neither Kyler Fackrell nor Jayrone Elliott has been up to the task.
Milwaukee native Marwin Evans was a feel good story a year ago, but he’s been a lot more than that this summer. The second-year safety might be the best player on defense through two exhibition games. His 40 time is excellent (4.47), and now he’s playing to that speed. And while the former Utah State star still takes some questionable angles, his toughness has never been in doubt and his tackling is much improved.
Evans is a lock to make the 53-man roster, but whether he’ll be more than a core member of special teams can only be determined by letting him face starting quarterbacks and receivers. He got that chance for a few series last week and more than held his own. If he can do it again on Saturday night in Denver, maybe Dom Capers will look to find ways to get him on the field when the season opens in 19 days.
(Don’t forget to send your questions for this week’s Q&A by Thursday night)