There is plenty of posturing for playing time going on as the NFL opened its preseason schedule this week, and several former Cougars had their chances to impress.
The best performance came from former BYU tight end Dennis Pitta, who had four catches for 47 yards while starting for Baltimore in a 13-6 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday. Pitta is in a battle with Ed Dickson for the starting tight end position, and with Dickson sitting with a hurt hamstring, Pitta took advantage of the opportunity to stake his claim at more playing time.
Pitta’s night included a 27-yard catch on the first play of the game. It was a Pitta-esque circus catch, as he had to reach around Eagles safety Kurt Coleman to haul in the pass. The effort earned the play the No. 3 spot on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays that night.
“I think initially, the first week of training camp, it was a little tough getting adjusted to everything. Now, it feels like we’ve been doing this all year again, and it’s a lot of fun,” Pitta told baltimoreravens.com following the game. “I look forward to the next opportunity for our team to get back to work and improve.”
The Baltimore Sun reported that Pitta followed up the strong gameday performance with a solid practice on Saturday. According to the Sun’s Ravens Insider, Pitta caught passes over the middle on mid- to long-range routes, something Cougar fans became accustomed to seeing during his time in Provo. Pitta left BYU with the school’s all-time record in receptions (221) and finished his Cougar career with 2,901 receiving yards, third all-time and the best for a tight end at a school that has historically produced strong receiving numbers from the position.
Other performances from former BYU players during the NFL’s first week of preseason included:
— Quarterback Max Hall, fighting for a roster spot with the Arizona Cardinals, led the game-winning drive for the Cardinals in a 24-18 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Thursday. After Sebastian Janikowski hit a 57-yard field goal to give the Raiders an 18-17 lead, Hall and the Cardinals took over at their 32 with 2:32 to go in the game.
On first down, Hall hit Isaiah Williams for a 12-yard gain, then connected with Chansi Stuckey for 20 yards to move Arizona to the Oakland 36 at the two-minute warning. Following a six-yard pass to DeMarco Sampson and a two-yard scramble, Hall hit Williams on a third-and-2 for a 28-yard touchdown pass with 50 seconds left. The drive took just 1:53 and Hall went 4-for-4 for 66 yards and the TD.
Though it was a strong performance for Hall — listed fourth on the team’s current depth chart — he still faces stiff competition for a roster spot, as the other three quarterbacks on the Cardinals’ roster also had good nights. Kevin Kolb, traded to Arizona the week before to become the team’s starter, was the only one without a touchdown pass, but he still completed 4 of 7 passes for 68 yards and had a pair of scrambles for 19 yards. Backups John Skelton (91 passing yards) and Richard Bartel (69 yards) both had scoring strikes and, like Hall, finished with at least a 108.1 passer rating or higher.
“They all kind of muddied the picture,” Whisenhunt said of the quarterback battle, to azcardinals.com. “I was pleased with all four of them.”
— Quarterback John Beck, hampered by a groin injury suffered the Saturday before, did not play for the Washington Redskins in a 16-7 victory over Pittsburgh on Friday.
Beck is trying to earn his first NFL starting job since 2007 and is in competition with veteran Rex Grossman for the gig. Grossman had a standout performance against the Steelers, completing 19 of 26 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown. Backup Kellen Clemens completed 9 of 17 passes for 107 yards.
The key for Beck now is to get healthy, and it appears this is the case, as he took first-team reps during 11-on-11 scrimmage work for Washington on Sunday.
“It was good to be back,” Beck told redskins.com. “Those couple days where I couldn’t take any team reps, it was rough. It wasn’t fun. It’s good to be back practicing — real football.”
— Tight end Daniel Coats had three catches for 18 yards, all in the second half, in the New York Giants’ 20-10 loss to Carolina on Saturday. Coats was signed by the Giants earlier in the week to be in competition to replace Kevin Boss, a strong pass-catching TE who left New York and signed with the Raiders. Another former Cougar, wide receiver Todd Watkins, also played for the Giants but did not record any statistics.
— Running back Harvey Unga had 27 yards on the ground on nine rushes, all in the fourth quarter, during the Chicago Bears’ 10-3 win over Buffalo on Saturday. Unga, whose rushing total was third best on the team, is in competition with fellow backs Chester Taylor and Kahlil Bell to find a spot on the 53-man roster. While Taylor had just three yards on three carries on the night, Bell had a strong performance, leading Chicago with 73 rushing yards on 13 carries and added two receptions for 46 yards.
— Defensive tackle Brett Keisel started for Pittsburgh and had three tackles. Another longtime Steeler and former Cougar, Chris Hoke, played but did not record any stats.
— Right guard Dallas Reynolds played in a reserve role for the Eagles. Reynolds is listed third at the position on the Philadelphia depth chart.
— Jason Speredon played at right tackle for the Cardinals. Speredon is currently third on the team’s depth chart at RT.
— Fullback Manase Tonga had a three-yard catch in a backup role for the Raiders. Oakland starting FB Marcel Reese had one carry for two yards and a reception for seven yards.
— Linebackers Bryan Kehl and Brady Poppinga each had a tackle in the St. Louis Rams’ 33-10 victory over Indianapolis on Saturday.
— Wide receiver Austin Collie played but did not record any statistics for the Colts. He is currently No. 1 on the Indianapolis depth chart at the H Back position.
— Rookie free agent signee Vic So’oto, who played defensive end at BYU, had three tackles in reserve action for Green Bay in a 27-17 loss to Cleveland on Saturday. So’oto is playing left outside linebacker for the Packers and is third on the current depth chart at the position.
— Fullback Fui Vakapuna saw action in a backup role for Cincinnati in a 34-3 loss to Detroit on Friday. He did not record any statistics.
— Three former Cougars logged game action for Miami during the Dolphins’ 28-23 win over Atlanta on Friday. John Denney is headed into his seventh season as the team’s long snapper, while linebacker David Nixon and left guard Ray Feinga also played for Miami.