Houston (CBS Houston) – You look at rookie linebacker Willie Jefferson and you see raw talent which is exactly why Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak, Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips and staff, are making every effort to get him on the field. These were the thoughts of Kubiak on Jefferson during training camp just a couple of weeks ago.
“He’s a flash player right now. He’s long, he can run. He’s got pass rush ability which we’re always looking for in this league. He’s very raw. He’s been pressed into some pretty tough duty and that’s the way you find out about guys. He should be a very good special teams’ player.”
However, that has changed just a little. Due to injuries and much needed depth, the Texans were put in the position of having to start the rookie against New Orleans last Sunday, albeit in a 31-23 loss. Whitney Mercilus is injured and 3rd round pick, Sam Montgomery, is slowly working his way into the defense. That left Jefferson who felt pretty good about his first start.
“It was real refreshing to go out there and just play with the ones, (starters), just go out there and do my thing like I’ve been doing all week in practice.”
DID HIS THING
Sheer athletic ability and size at 6’5” 245, up 10 pounds since the start of training camp, gives him a grade of B+, at least for now. He’s a rookie with raw talent as Kubiak mentioned above. Jefferson is making the transition to defense after beginning his college career as a wide receiver with the Baylor Bears for the first two years of his college career. Jefferson then transferred to Stephen F. Austin and made the transition to defensive end where he earned second-team College Sports Madness FCS All-American honors.
Fast forward to last Sunday’s 3rd preseason contest against the Saints, and the numbers are not dazzling. However, they do register potential. The stat line reads: 1 tackle, 1 combined tackle, and 2 quarterback hurries. Those two quarterback hurries tied a team high with nose tackle and North Shore High School product, Earl Mitchell, who thinks Jefferson can hold his own with the big boys.
“He’s been doing well all camp and he’s going against Duane Brown, really a phenomenal player. So, he’s been doing well and he’s, (Brown), been getting him, (Jefferson), ready and he’s ready for the big stage.”
“He’s really tested me a lot throughout training camp,” says pro bowl tackle Duane Brown. “Whenever I’m up against him, I know I got to be on my P’s and Q’s, have good technique, because he can beat you if you get lazy at all. I’ve been trying to do my best to help him – sharing some of my experiences with him and my craftiness as a veteran, and some of the things he might see from tackles. But, I think he’s really going to be good for this team.”
The work with Brown has obviously paid off in the eyes of the coaching staff, who gave their rookie linebacker the start, especially when it came to game speed. The speed of the game for rookies, even in preseason games, is astounding. However, Jefferson intimates, not especially.
“It was a little different. But, I was working with the ones all week in practice. So, I know what to expect during the game.”
However, there are times when all players get a surprise or two during a game, and of course, rookies are no exception especially when size doesn’t fit skill level. Jefferson had a chance to make a play against future Hall-of-Fame QB Drew Brees during the first quarter in which Brees attempts a pass to his tight end, Jimmy Graham.
It was 3rd and 6 at the 12:26 mark of the first quarter. Thanks to a little help from safety Danieal Manning and a quarterback hurry by Jefferson, the pass intended for Graham from Brees fell incomplete. It was a blink-of-the-eye moment for the rookie.
“When I looked up and I saw him, I blinked. I knew I just had to make a play. Everything just happened – just like that. You blink and you miss. So, I got to try to keep my eyes open next time.”
Or, next time, possibly lose Brees and the play. No question, Brees is quick, but his legend is bigger than his person, says Jefferson.
“He was way shorter than what I expected – way shorter.”
There’s more of that to come for Jefferson as he continues to grow his status with the Texans and the NFL.
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