Surprising starters dot the Week 1 landscape
Week 1 of the NFL season is upon us, finally. After months of practices and preseason games, teams have cut down their rosters and done their best to put together ideal depth charts.
But there are, as there always seem to be, some surprise names expected to get major minutes early. Here’s a look at a few players who unexpectedly played their way into the starting lineup.
• Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins: Mike Shanahan is a mad scientist when it comes to running backs, so any number of players could wind up with significant carries on Sunday. Still, Morris was the most impressive Washington back in the preseason, carrying 39 times for 195 yards over three games. He should see ample early touches in Washington’s opener, though Evan Royster and Roy Helu will be breathing down his neck.
• Bobby Massie, RT, Cardinals: Arizona let on from the get-go that it would let Massie, a fourth-round pick in April, battle for the starting right tackle job. But Massie was only around in Round 4 because of red flags about his work ethic; many teams considered him a project pick. Arizona simply does not have many other options.
• Albert McClellan, LB, Ravens: Put an asterisk next to this one because McClellan is facing charges in Florida stemming from a July domestic battery case. Assuming that he avoids suspension (or jail time, I suppose), McClellan appears to have leapfrogged second-round pick Courtney Upshaw on the outside, where McClellan will be counted on to help fill the void left by Terrell Suggs.
• Cedric Benson, RB, Packers: It’s not so much a surprise that Benson, with three straight 1,000-yard seasons, is starting so much as where he’s starting. After spending a frustrating offseason waiting for some team to give him a shot, Benson wound up in Green Bay, where he has bumped Alex Green from the starting gig while an injured James Starks can only sit and watch.
• Rashad Jennings, RB, Jaguars: Under normal circumstances, Jennings running with the first team in Week 1 would not turn any heads. Jennings played well this preseason, helping the Jaguars show some promise on offense. Thanks to Maurice Jones-Drew’s holdout and recent arrival, this is far from a normal circumstance. However, head coach Mike Mularkey maintains that Jennings will start Jacksonville’s opener, despite MJD’s return — remember, Jones-Drew led the league in rushing last season. How long Jennings can hold onto that gig remains to be seen.
• Anthony Toribio, NT, Chiefs: Toribio spent all of 2011 on Kansas City’s practice squad, but he appears to have beaten out Jerrell Powe and 2012 first-round pick Dontari Poe for Kansas City’s starting nose tackle job. The one wrench in that plan: Toribio is dealing with an injured ankle, which could shuffle the Chiefs’ Week 1 plan.
• Jamarca Sanford, S, Vikings: Sanford started 15 games for Minnesota last year, though he was extremely unimpressive — Pro Football Focus rated him as the Vikings’ worst defender in 2011. Minnesota set out to upgrade its safety play this offseason, drafting Notre Dame teammates Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton. Smith and Mistral Raymond looked to have the starting jobs locked down, until a back injury to Raymond reopened the door for Sanford. Barring a quick return to health for Raymond, the Vikings may have no choice but to throw Sanford to the wolves again.
• Michael Coe, CB, Giants: Not familiar with Coe’s work? You’re forgiven. Now in his sixth year out of Alabama St., Coe will be making his first career start on Wednesday when the Cowboys and Giants clash. Coe has just 27 NFL tackles and no interceptions, but he’ll have to deal with either Dez Bryant or Miles Austin as Prince Amukamara sits injured on the sideline.
• Austin Howard, RT, Jets: The Jets’ right tackle spot has become something of a running joke, with Rex Ryan backing Wayne Hunter … only to bench him, and then watch as the team traded him to St. Louis for another RT, Jason Smith. It’s Howard, however, who will make just his second career start when the Jets open on Sunday.
• John Skelton, QB, Cardinals: If you watched Arizona last season, then Skelton claiming the starting QB job over Kevin Kolb — at the end of a thoroughly uninspiring preseason battle — won’t shock you. However, it essentially signals the Cardinals waving the white flag once and for all on the costly trade they orchestrated for Kolb (and the huge contract they gave him after that). This is Skelton’s team now, for better or worse.