First Down, Fourth Down: Kirk Cousins stars as NFL preseason slate kicks off
Seven passes. That's what it took Redskins QB Kirk Cousins A.) to reassure Washington fans that their team would be OK if Robert Griffin III had to miss another start or two and B.) to drive his anticipated potential trade stock even higher.
Cousins played two series for the Redskins in Thursday night's preseason win over the Titans. The first resulted in a punt; the second ended with Cousins floating a TD pass to TE Fred Davis for a 7-0 lead.
The topic of conversation as a result of that performance: Will Cousins be worth a first-round pick in a trade next offseason?
Keep in mind that Cousins has just one start and fewer than 50 career regular-season passes under his belt. In that small sample, though, he's shown to be a smart and efficient player at this level.
What he may land the Redskins in a trade should be moot for at least one more season -- given Griffin's knee injury last year, they can ill-afford to deal his backup (even with Rex Grossman on the roster). Another solid performance or two by Cousins in the preseason might have teams lining up for a crack at him come 2014, though.
First Down: Duke Ihenacho, Broncos.
If the Broncos' strong safety competition is between Ihenacho and Mike Adams, the former may have landed a knockout blow Thursday. Ihenacho, an undrafted second-year player, registered a team-high seven tackles in a 10-6 win over San Francisco, while running with Denver's top defensive unit. He also forced a fumble by WR A.J. Jenkins, which the 49ers recovered.
Adams has a huge edge in experience -- he started all 16 games last season; Ihenacho did not play a single snap on defense. But as the Broncos saw in their playoff loss to Baltimore, they must improve their playmaking quotient in the secondary. Ihenacho, thus far, has provided the desired bump.
Fourth Down: Chance Warmack, Titans.
Hardly a complete disaster, Warmack's Tennessee debut still showed that even the best rookie prospects need a little while to acclimate themselves to the NFL. On the Titans' first play from scrimmage, Warmack was blasted into the backfield by Redskins defensive lineman Jarvis Jenkins. Two plays later, Warmack could not contain Ryan Kerrigan, who blew past the Alabama product for a sack of Jake Locker.
Warmack settled in a bit after that, helping pave the way for Shonn Greene's 19-yard TD and Chris Johnson's 58-yard scamper. There is work to be done here, though, especially if the Titans want to run behind Warmack as much as it appears they do.
First Down: Daryl Smith, Ravens.
Smith was the recipient of some love in our Ravens Training Camp Snapshot, and he proved worthy of it on Thursday night. The Jaguars' all-time leading tackler was active and aggressive in his first game action as a member of Baltimore's linebacking corps. He finished with five tackles and a pass break-up during the Ravens' 44-16 beatdown of Tampa Bay. More importantly, he looked more than ready to help his new team move on in the post-Ray Lewis era at linebacker.
Fourth Down: A.J. Jenkins, 49ers.
The 49ers are giving Jenkins every opportunity to claim the No. 2 wide receiver job, with Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham shelved by injuries. They may be close to throwing in the towel.
Jenkins saw a healthy dose of action in San Francisco's loss, but he managed just one catch ... and he fumbled after making it. Even with the 49ers desperate to find weapons at wide receiver, Jenkins has not been able to grab a stranglehold on a job. Asked to evaluate the second-year WR's night, San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh said, rather bluntly, "Uh, could have been better."
First Down: Brandon Weeden, Browns
Does Weeden's night deserve the obligatory "Don't read too much into the preseason" caveat? Or is the second-year QB on the verge of a big season?
His performance Thursday, in a 27-19 loss to St. Louis, hinted toward door No. 2. Making his first start under new coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner, Weeden completed 10-of-13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, before turning the reins over to Jason Campbell. Both Campbell (6-of-7) and Brian Hoyer (10-of-14, 100 yards, 1 TD) excelled, too, so maybe the Rams simply had an off-night on defense.
Cleveland would prefer to think that Weeden offered a glimpse into his future in this offense, one that seems to fit his skill set better than the Browns' 2012 attack.
Fourth Down: Steven Jackson, Falcons.
Atlanta would have loved to established its run game early in Thursday's 34-10 loss to Cincinnati, with new RB Steven Jackson finding some holes behind a reworked offensive line. Instead, this was a performance the Falcons -- and Jackson, specifically -- probably will sweep under the rug.
Though Jackson was making his Atlanta debut, he played, as veterans at positions with high injury rates sometimes do, as if he merely wanted to get through the game unscathed. Running rather hesitantly, with right tackle Lamar Holmes struggling a bit, Jackson averaged 1.6 yards on five carries. It probably will be his worst night as a Falcon.
First Down: Dane Sanzenbacher, Bengals.
On the flip side of the preseason ledger, we have Sanzenbacher, a third-year player trying to make hay in the second half of a meaningless game. He may have done just that, taking a 71-yard punt return to the house in the third quarter, then hauling in a 36-yard bomb from John Skelton for a TD in the fourth. With Andrew Hawkins ailing right now, the door could be open for Sanzenbacher to swipe some playing time.
Fourth Down: Charlie Whitehurst, Chargers.
Is there a backup QB controversy in San Diego? Probably not yet, though Whitehurst did himself no favors in Thursday's 31-10 loss to Seattle. He also got minimal help from the Chargers' second-string offensive line, which failed to carry over any momentum from a surprisingly solid effort by the first unit.
Whitehurst took three sacks in approximately two quarters of action. He also fired two interceptions and finished with a QB rating of 17.8. San Diego's third QB, rookie Brad Sorensen, looked much sharper in an 8-of-11 performance.
Bonus First Down: Brian Banks, Falcons.
Hard not to root for Banks this preseason. The 28-year-old linebacker only recently made his way back into football after serving five years in prison and another five on probation after being falsely accused of rape. Banks had one tackle Thursday night, in his first NFL action. Hopefully, that's just the start to his career.