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Denzel Ward, Ohio State rookies make NFL debut in Week 1

Everything you need to know about Buckeyes in the NFL from opening weekend.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

The NFL is back, and Week 1 featured a host of former Ohio State players playing well, spanning from 12-year veterans like Ted Ginn Jr. to four rookies who made their NFL debuts. It wasn’t all good news, with a handful of Buckeyes missing out on their team’s regular season opener due to injuries, but for the most part, the OSU contingent stayed fairly healthy.

Here’s a look at some of the top storylines and results from Buckeyes in the NFL, Week 1:


Rookie report

Lots of former Ohio State players made their debuts over the weekend, with several picks from the 2018 NFL Draft earning playing time in Week 1.

Jerome Baker: The linebacker will be an instant contributor for the Dolphins, who not only nabbed their first win on Sunday, but also saw the Buckeye rookie make six total tackles against the Titans. Notably, Baker fell on a late-game onside kick attempt, sealing the win for the Miami team.

Sam Hubbard: The Buckeye only took 8.5% of defensive snaps in his NFL debut, but he finished the game as the only player to line up on both offense and defense. The Bengals brought in the first-year defender to play a little tight end/h-back role, a la his high school days — so long ago.

Billy Price: One of the more consistent players for the Buckeyes over the past few years was guard-turned-center Billy Price. He’s struggled a little during the Bengals’ preseason, and it appears that at least some of those weaknesses carried over to Week 1.

It’s not exactly a panic situation in Cincinnati just yet, but as our friends at Cincy Jungle quipped, “Welcome to the NFL.”

“Price mostly avoided miscues throughout the rest of the game, as the run blocking from the Bengals offensive line was solid, but noticeably struggled when attacking the right edge. Price’s struggles with reach blocks and excellence in space came up like they did all preseason.”

Denzel Ward: see “Plays of the Week’” section below

Honorable mention: A couple second-year Buckeyes also made their regular season NFL debuts over the weekend after injuries kept them off the field in 2017. Colts safety Malik Hooker nabbed four total tackles on Sunday, and Dolphins linebacker Raekwon McMillan secured six total tackles.


Saints are still Buckeye-loaded

New Orleans has one of the most Ohio State-centric rosters in the NFL, in addition to J.T. Barrett on the practice squad, they’ve got five Buckeyes on the active roster.

As is becoming the norm, Buckeye wide receivers continued to ball out on the opposite end of passes from Drew Brees. Michael Thomas had a great Week 1 (also see ‘Plays of the Week’ section below) and Ted Ginn Jr. continues to impress into his 12th NFL season. Ginn had five catches on Sunday for 68 yards and one touchdown — he also had five yards on the ground.

Over on defense, Vonn Bell nabbed four total tackles, and reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore had three tackles and one pass defended. Safety Kurt Coleman also claimed three total tackles against the Bucs on Sunday.


Lots of inactives

There were a host of injuries and positional battles that kept a handful of Buckeyes out of action for their season opener over the weekend. Notably, Pro Bowler Joey Bosa was sidelined with a bone bruise earlier in the week, and was in a walking boot ahead of the Chargers’ first game of the season.

The Vikings were out two Buckeyes on Sunday, with Pat Elflein and Jalyn Holmes still working back from injuries, despite Elflein having passed his physical last week. Additionally, Panthers’ WR Curtis Samuel missed Week 1 after undergoing a minor procedure to fix an irregular heartbeat — this, after finally making his way back from an ankle injury.

Jacksonville defensive tackle Michael Bennett also was listed as inactive for the first game of the season, but he’s been on and off the field for the Jaguars the past few years, and was honestly a bit of a surprise to even make the final 53-man roster.


Plays of the Week

Denzel Ward

It was one hell of a debut for rookie cornerback Denzel Ward, who in his first NFL game nabbed six total tackles, three passes defended and two interceptions. Ward suffered an injury during the Browns’ preseason game against the Eagles, but didn’t miss a step in his first game in the pros.

The fourth overall pick from the 2018 NFL Draft was expected to be productive, but two picks in his first outing was impressive and could be the beginning on a run to the second former #BIA star earning post-season rookie awards.

Michael Thomas

The Saints’ wide receiver picked up right where he left off in 2017, and in Week 1, nabbed 16 receptions for 180 yards and one touchdown. He averaged 11.2 yards per catch and has become one of the favorite targets of QB Drew Brees. Few wideouts can move the sticks with each reception quite like Thomas.


Still to play

There are two games on Monday night, starting with the New York Jets (Darron Lee, Terrelle Pryor Sr.) vs. Detroit Lions (Taylor Decker) at 7:20 p.m. ET, followed by the Los Angeles Rams (Jake McQuaide) vs. Oakland Raiders (Gareon Conley) at 10:20 p.m. ET.


Other notables

  • Steelers DT Cameron Heyward had a day during the team’s tie with Cleveland on Sunday, recording seven total tackles, including five solo and a sack.
  • The Broncos have two Buckeyes on their roster, but tight end Jeff Heuerman had just one receptions on Sunday for 15 yards, and DB Bradley Roby had two tackles against the Seahawks. Over on Seattle’s side, tight end Nick Vannett had one catch for 11 yards.
  • Eli Apple is back in the mix for the Giants, after the team’s new front office and coaching staff gave him another chance, and in Week 1, the cornerback made three total tackles and had two passes defended against the Jaguars.
  • The Cowboys lost to the Panthers on Sunday, and the Buckeye running backs weren’t quite as productive as they are used to. Rod Smith had only one carry for five yards, and Ezekiel Elliott had one of his least effective games in his NFL career with 15 carries for 69 nice yards and one touchdown, and three receptions for 17 yards.