When the NFL season really kicks off this weekend, all eyes will be on two of NC State's greatest all-time performers: Mario Williams and Philip Rivers. Both players were drafted by teams possessing the top overall pick, and the careers of both will be forever linked to a competing player their drafting team passed over.
In Williams' case, the Houston Texans shocked the world by passing on USC superstar Reggie Bush and instead selecting the dominating 6-foot-7 defensive end. Similarly, fans and experts are eager to compare the performance of Rivers to rising star Eli Manning, whom the San Diego Chargers drafted number one overall before trading him to the New York Giants and moving down to number four to select Rivers.
So far in the preseason, the jury is out on whether either of these Wolfpackers will meet the NFL's lofty expectations. Williams has already weathered some criticism, after failing to dominate linemen in the preseason. While he only played in the first three preseason games, Williams did not collect a sack, and only totaled 3.5 tackles. Meanwhile, fellow defensive lineman rookies Darryl Tapp from Virginia Tech and Mathias Kiwanuka from Boston College have shined. Last year both players finished ahead of Williams in voting for All-ACC, but neither received near the pre-NFL draft hype that Williams did.
Tapp, a second round pick, made an impression with the Seattle Seahawks by collecting 13.5 tackles and two sacks in the preseason, and Kiwanuka, drafted 32nd overall, has won over fans in New York by recording 8.5 tackles, 3.5 sacks, and an interception.
However, unlike Tapp and Kiwanuka, Williams left school for the draft as a junior, and his combination of size, speed, and strength still has many projecting him to be a superstar, and they expect his best days might be two or three years down the road.
After patiently waiting for his opportunity for two years, the best of Rivers is hoped to come here and now in San Diego. Rivers found himself annointed the starting quarterback this season after incumbent Drew Brees was allowed to sign with New Orleans. After a lights-out training camp, including one streak where he threw 21 passes in scrimmages without an incompletion, all in San Diego were feeling good about the personnel change.
However, a weak performance in Rivers' third preseason game tempered the enthusiasm of many. Playing against the Seahawks, Rivers lost three fumbles, before leaving the game early with a slightly bruised shoulder. One fumble came on a bobbled snap, another was a muffed hand-off, and the third came on a sack. State fans would be hard-pressed to remember a time that Rivers ever had so much trouble holding on to the ball.
Despite a poor performance against Seattle, Rivers has performed admirably overall, displaying trademark accuracy and poise. In the preseason he completed 30-of-46 passes for 333 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Rivers opens his season before a national television audience on Monday night against Oakland.
While the future is bright for Williams and Rivers, other notable Wolfpackers have found less fortune this preseason:
- Following an off-the-field incident, wide receiver Koren Robinson was cut by the Minnesota Vikings. The 2005 Pro Bowl selection may be facing a suspension from the NFL, but that didn't stop the Green Bay Packers from talking with Robinson recently.
- Offensive tackle Chris Colmer experienced a return of the rare
nerve disorder the kept him off the field for many games in Raleigh, and
has been placed on injured reserve by Tampa Bay.
- After an auspicious first year in Minnesota in which he made the
team as an undrafted free agent, cornerback Dovonte Edwards saw this
season derailed when he broke his arm last weekend. He was having a great preseason and is expected to contribute when he returns.
- Former backfield mate Lamont Reid, who last season made the Arizona Cardinals as an undrafted free agent, was released with the team's final
round of cuts.
- After hanging around in the league for two years, tight end Sean
Berton was cut early in camp by the New York Giants.
- After coming back from injury and competing well in camp, last
year's 5th-round pick Andre Maddox didn't show enough and was cut by the New York Jets new coaching regime.
- Last year's senior receiving duo of Tramain Hall and Brian Clark were cut by Tennessee and Denver respectively, though Brian Clark did secure a spot on the Denver's practice squad after leading the team in kickoff return yardage this preseason.
Still, for others, things are looking up:
- Detroit Lions safety Terrence Holt has managed to hold off
second-round draft pick Daniel Bullocks for the starting position.
- New York Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery has locked up the second
starting spot at wide receiver.
- Linebacker Oliver Hoyte continued to impress in Dallas, and survived
the Cowboys' final cut. Said coach Bill Parcells, "All he does is make
tackles. There is no way Hoyte [if we let him go] could have possibly
made it through waivers." Hoyte led the team with seven special teams
tackles, and totaled nine on defense. Hoyte's signing means every
draft-eligible player from NC State's starting defense last year is in
the NFL. The others were all drafted.
- Sixth-round pick Marcus Hudson joined first-round pick Manny Lawson
in San Francisco, and not only made the team, but has outshined his
fellow Wolfpacker. In his last preseason game against San Diego,
Hudson intercepted two passes (neither from former teammate Rivers).
Head coach Mike Nolan has praised him often in camp, most notably saying
"I shouldn't compare him to someone like Ronnie Lott or Dennis Smith,
who played cornerback before going to safety. Those are top of the line
guys, but still, that doesn't mean that somebody else can't do it."
Hudson looks to play extensive special teams and will compete for the
nickel corner spot.
- Teammate Manny Lawson has not done poorly by any stretch, and after totaling six tackles and grabbing one interception, Lawson easily locked up a starting linebacker position.
Other notable former ACC players:
- Former ACC rushing champ Chris Barclay from Wake Forest went
undrafted, but competed for a spot with the Cleveland Browns in camp.
After he was cut Sept. 3 and cleared waivers, he was signed to their
- Former UVa quarterback Marques Hagans was cut by the St. Louis Rams, who had drafted him as a wide receiver/returner in the fifth
- Former UNC quarterback Matt Baker was signed to the Dallas practice squad.