By: Barry Barnes, Founder
It was an emotional night for Atlanta Falcons return specialist Devin Hester who set a NFL record of 20 touchdown returns last Thursday as he broke his mentor’s, Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, long standing record. Nothing else could have been foreseen in the team’s blow-out win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3), 56-14. Well, in the midst of that victory and the record setting evening, it was a coming out party for Falcons safety Kemal Ishmael who is actually blazing a trail for myself, and the NFL Regional Combine – making their account just as significant.
Ishmael was the first player from the NFL Regional Combine’s pipeline to score a touchdown this season, and help set the tone for the team’s win in Week 3.
The Bucs were facing a third-and-10 situation, down 14-0 with 2:47 remaining in the first quarter. Bucs quarterback Josh McCown targeted wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Focused on his training, Ishmael jumped the route and leaped higher than the 6-3 Vincent for the interception and returned it for a 23-yard touchdown. Ishmael’s teammates mobbed him in the endzone for a celebration.
“It was the perfect alignment,” said Ishmael. “We worked on this in practice when studying their routes. I noticed it, recognized it; I saw the opportunity and jumped in there and made a play.”
Scoring touchdowns in the NFL is not easy, and getting to the NFL – well that’s another story.
And for a player who journeys through NFL Regional Combine, dreaming of a chance to step onto a NFL field is a blurred thought, let alone scoring a touchdown.
Ishmael played his collegiate ball at Central Florida, and to make his draft status stronger after not being invited to the NFL National Scouting Combine, the 5-11 defensive back attended the NFL Regional Combine workouts in Tampa in 2013. After a solid session, Ishmael was not invited to the NFL Super Regional Combine, which was held in Dallas. However, he was drafted in the seventh round (243rd-overall) by the Falcons.
Now, Ishmael is playing a significant role for the Falcons defense, and as a unit, they are playing with an apparent attitude. Prior to posting his first NFL touchdown, Ishmael unloaded on Bucs rookie wide receiver Solomon Patton on a kickoff return causing him to fumble with 3:03 remaining. But the officials ruled the play dead because his forward progress was stopped previous to the fumble.
Ishmael finished the game with four tackles, and his teammate linebacker Joplo Bartu, another product of the RC, contributed to the contest with a tackle, an assist and a fumble recovery.
Falcons defense to learning to be both discipline and aggressive and are showing signs of improvement. To know that two players from the NFL Regional Combine are a part of the Falcons transition from a questionable defense to a solid unit, is something to behold.
Most importantly, Ishmael is all about the team.
“We worked hard all week in practice, and on defense,” said Ishmael. “We have our guys going out there to be the number one defense. I feel this week we went out there and showed that. As a team, we had to get things accomplished, and that’s what we did. We stepped up to the challenge and made plays.”
Speaking of team, the Baltimore Ravens (2-1) is playing more closely as a unit due to the surrounding controversy of the club, regarding to the former running back Ray Rice’s situation. A piece of the love is share with defensive tackle Christo Bilukidi. Bilukidi signed with the Ravens two weeks ago after being released by the Cincinnati Bengals (3-0). He is backing up Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
During the contest over the Cleveland Browns (1-2) Sunday, which the Ravens won in a tight finish 23-21, Bilukidi frequently saw action as he was substituting for Ngata to help keep him fresh.
Bilukidi was drafted in 2012 by the Oakland Raiders in the sixth-round (189th-overall), and similar to Ishmael, he ventured through the NFL Regional Combine, but by way of the Atlanta sessions.
The 6-5, 320-pound defensive tackle did not get any tackles, but Bilukidi is quickly understanding the Ravens system and is sure to have an impact soon.
Last Monday, Indianapolis Colts linebacker Josh McNary filled in for the injured Jerrell Freeman nicely in the starting lineup, despite the lost. McNary got the nod again and contributed with passion, followed by a tackle and an assist in the team’s blow-out win over the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3), 44-17.
The Houston Texans rolled into week three undefeated. Sunday, the New York Giants (1-2) put an end to the Texans winning streak after being blitz, 30-17. Under the radar, Texans running back Jonathan Grimes has been effective in his limited role as a part of a committee of backs to support a running attack in the absence of Pro Bowl ball carrier Arian Foster.
Grimes saw action in all three of the Texans (2-1) contests this season, and was able to pick up some first downs along the way.
Against the Giants, Grimes had a 5-yard pick up in the first quarter with 8:21 remaining. The next time the William and Mary standout touch the ball, it was on the last play of the game when he caught a pass from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for a 31-yard gain.
Since day one, the Texans were always curious about Grimes, pretty much like a break up to make up love affair. He participated in the NFL Regional Combine workouts held in New York/New Jersey in 2012. The Texans signed Grimes in 2012 during the offseason and to their practice squad. That same season, the Texans released him and the New York Jets scoop him up, only to cut him later.
The Texans came calling again and re-signed Grimes, then waived him towards the end of the season. Fortunately for Grimes, many teams were interested in his talents and the Jaguars quickly signed him.
Nevertheless, the Texans could not stay away from the athletic, speedy back and they re-signed Grimes after the Jaguars waived him the following season. Grimes possesses great speed out of the back field as well, and this time, the relationship between the Texans and Grimes is growing into a healthy marriage as he joined their active roster this season.
St. Louis Rams relationship with safety Cody Davis has been fruitful since 2013. The Texas Tech product was outstanding during his NFL Regional Combine drills when worked out in Houston and he put on a show for the NFL Super Regional Combine in Dallas. Davis was on teams’ draft boards, only to not be selected. Most specifically, the Rams signed Davis as soon as the 2013 NFL Draft ended, and he’s been a Ram ever since.
Against the Dallas Cowboys, who came back to win in dramatic fashion 34-31, Davis had a fumble recovery late in the first quarter.
Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein nailed a field goal in the contest and punter John Hekker had one attempt.
Things may get interesting for Pittsburgh Steelers defensive backs Antwon Blake and Robert Golden because of the injury Ike Taylor (left forearm) sustained in the club’s win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday. One of the those players may see some time on the field, other than as a member of the special teams.
For the past few weeks, several Regional Combine standouts dominated the headlines, and rightfully so. As the NFL Weeks continues, more players will surface and will be activated to active rosters, consequently due to injuries and abilities. Stay tuned, Week 4 is just the beginning.
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