New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (2) calls a play before the snap during the first half of the team's NFL preseason football game against the New York Giants, Saturday, Aug. 14, 2021, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Corey Sipkin)

Cougars in the pros: 23 former BYU football players involved in start of NFL preseason

The National Football League began its preseason last week and 23 BYU football alumni represented 17 teams in the opening weekend.

Headlining the group was last year’s starting quarterback in Provo, Zach Wilson. Wilson is the presumed starter for the New York Jets and played the opening two series as the team began its preseason against the New York Giants. He put up 63 passing yards as he completed six of nine attempts in a 12-7 victory.

Wilson wasn’t the only former BYU quarterback to start over the weekend, as Taysom Hill got the first reps for the New Orleans Saints in a 17-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Hill had a similarly efficient outing to Wilson, albeit with an interception to taint the stat sheet. He put up 81 passing yards on eight of 12 attempts and remains in a battle for the regular season starting job with Jameis Winston.

One of the highlights from the weekend across the entire league was a tackle for loss on fourth down by former BYU linebacker Isaiah Kaufusi. He had five total tackles, including two solo, in a 21-18 win over the Carolina Panthers. Kaufusi signed as an undrafted free agent with the Indianapolis Colts and is looking to make the roster ahead of the regular season.

Also on the defensive side of the ball, Harvey Langi led the New England Patriots with 10 total tackles and eight solo tackles in a 22-13 win over the Washington Football Team. Kyle Van Noy is Langi’s teammate on the Patriots and put up three total tackles and one solo tackle.

On the other side of the ball in the same game was Dax Milne, BYU’s leading receiver last year, playing for Washington. He had 16 yards on two catches and also returned a punt for 19 yards.

Running back Ty’son Williams, who had a brief stint at BYU in 2019, put up 43 yards on 10 carries for the Baltimore Ravens in their loss to the Saints. The highlight of his performance was an impressive 18-yard run up the sideline.

Another running back, Jamaal Williams, who holds the BYU record for most career rushing yards, made his debut for the Detroit Lions with 15 yards on nine carries in a 16-15 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

The final offensive player to put up stats over the weekend was tight end Matt Bushman with five yards on one catch for the Las Vegas Raiders in a 20-7 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

The rest of the highlights from BYU alumni came on the defensive side of the ball. Safeties Zayne Anderson and Kai Nacua played against each other, both putting up solid numbers. Anderson had four tackles, including two solo, for the Kansas City Chiefs, while Nacua had six total tackles, four solo and one pass defended for the San Francisco 49ers. The Chiefs won 19-16. Anderson’s teammate, BYU alumnus Daniel Sorensen, did not play in the game.

Nacua is one of three former Cougars currently with the 49ers, joining star linebacker Fred Warner and offensive lineman Corbin Kaufusi. Warner was held out of the first preseason game, and Kaufusi had his first official go at the offensive lineman position after switching over from defensive line in the offseason.

Another pair of defensive backs, Troy Warner and Michael Davis, went head-to-head in the battle for Los Angeles. Warner had three solo tackles and a tackle for loss for the Rams and Davis had one solo tackle for the Chargers in their 13-6 win.

The final former Cougar defenders to put up stats over the weekend were linebacker Sione Takitaki with three solo tackles for the Cleveland Browns, cornerback Chris Wilcox with two solo tackles for the Tampa Bay Bucaneers, and defensive lineman Zac Dawe with one tackle for the Atlanta Falcons.

Offensive linemen Chandon Herring and Brady Christensen, wide receiver Micah Simon and defensive tackle Khyiris Tonga also played over the weekend. Christensen and Tonga are both projected to make the two-deep final roster for their respective teams.

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