Each Tuesday, Writing Illini will summarize the professional efforts of former Illinois football players in this new “Pro-Style” section.
Never good at math, I had 21 former Illini on NFL rosters as of right now, which was down from the 25 players who were on preseason rosters.
Anyways, while former Illini running back Rashard Mendenhall grabbed most of the headlines with a 50-yard touchdown run during the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 15-9 overtime victory against the Atlanta Falcons, other ex-Illini, including Pierre Thomas, Brandon Lloyd, Alan Ball and Steve Weatherford, were sharp in week one.
Michael Hoomanawanui vs. Will Davis
In his first pro game, St. Louis rookie tight end Michael Hoomanawanui had 1 catch for 8 yards, but the Rams couldn’t get in the end zone against the Arizona Cardinals and former Illini defensive lineman Will Davis late. Beginning his second season with the Cardinals, Davis had 1 tackle in the victory.
Arrelious “Rejus” Benn vs. Tony Pashos
In his first professional game, Tampa Bay rookie wide receiver Arrelious Benn did not have a reception. Already in his 8th season in the NFL, Pashos did not start for the Browns in the opener after struggling with a shoulder injury during the preseason. However, with former Chicago Bear John St. Clair struggling against the Bucs, Pashos may be in at right tackle soon enough.
Alan Ball and Josh Brent
While the Cowboys fell due to an Alex Barron holding call that wiped out a touchdown on the last play of the game, the Dallas defense was very solid, holding the Redskins to just 6 points. Former Illinois cornerback Alan Ball forced a fumble and had 6 tackles, which tied for the Dallas team lead with stud defensive lineman DeMarcus Ware. In his first professional game, Brent had 2 tackles from the defensive tackle position. Ball, Brent and the Cowboys will look to heal their wounds in week two against the Chicago Bears.
Lloyd was a bright spot during a disappointing Denver loss to Jacksonsville, leading the team with 5 receptions for 117 yards (23.4 average), including a game-long 41-yard reception. It looks like Lloyd, who played for but didn’t do much with the Broncos last season, is again becoming a favorite of quarterback Kyle Orton with Brandon Marshall now in Miami. Orton and Lloyd had good chemistry two seasons ago when playing for the Bears.
Eugene Wilson and Neil Rackers vs. Kelvin Hayden
The Texans have been on the verge of the playoffs the last two seasons and look legitimate after week one, knocking off the class of the AFC in the Colts. For the Texans, Wilson had 1 tackle and 3 assists while Rackers was perfect in the game, going 4-for-4 on extra points and 2-for-2 on field goal attempts. In a losing effort, Colts’ cornerback Hayden had 4 tackles, 2 assists and 1 pass defended. The Colts also have another former Illini, offensive lineman Xavier Fulton, on the practice squad. The Texans had another former Illini, linebacker Danny Clark, throughout the preseason before releasing him on September 5th. Clark has since signed with the New Orleans Saints.
Rookie offensive lineman Jon Asamoah is a backup for the Chiefs, which upset the Chargers in the back-end of the Monday Night Football doubleheader. The Chargers did have former Illini center Ryan McDonald in training camp before cutting him at the end of the preseason.
The second year Miami cornerback had 2 tackles and 1 pass defended during the opening week victory.
Pierre Thomas and Danny Clark vs. Greg Lewis and J Leman
In a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship Game, the Saints took control in the second half due to the tough running of former Illini Pierre Thomas, who ran the ball 19 times for 71 yards and a touchdown. Clark did not appear in the box score after signing with the Saints earlier in the week. In a losing effort, Minnesota wide receiver Greg Lewis had 1 catch for 12 yards. Former Illini linebacker J Leman is on Minnesota’s injured reserve list.
Diehl started at left tackle for the Giants, which ran for 112 yards during a victory where Eli Manning threw three touchdown passes to second-year receiver Hakeem Nicks.
Steve Weatherford, Brandon Moore and Jeff Cumberland
The Jets failed to live up to all the hype on Monday Night Football, looking anemic on offense against one of the best defensive teams around. Offensive lineman Brandon Moore got abused by Haloti Ngata during a fourth-quarter sack of Mark Sanchez, and rookie tight end Jeff Cumberland was inactive. Punter Steve Weatherford was solid as usual, averaging 45.7 yards on 6 punts (including a 56-yarder) and pinning the Ravens inside the 20 four times. The Jets cut former Illini fullback Jason Davis at the end of training camp, though the veteran just worked out with the Philadelphia Eagles.
With Willie Parker gone, Mendenhall is now officially the man at running back for the Steelers and didn’t disappoint on Sunday, even though he was pretty much Pittsburgh’s main rusher last season. Bringing back memories of the 2008 Rose Bowl, Mendenhall broke the wings of the Falcons with a 50-yard touchdown run in overtime to give the Steelers (sans Ben Roethlisberger) a 15-9 victory. Mendenhall ran 22 times for 120 yards and did not fumble, which has been a problem at times early in his career.
No former Illinois players suited up in this game, though it should be known that ex-Illini Brit Miller and Derek Walker were cut by the 49ers at the end of the preseason.
Until Week 2.
Topics: 2008 Rose Bowl, Alan Ball, Alex Barron, ARIZONA CARDINALS, Arrelious "Rejus" Benn, Arrelious Benn, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger, Brandon Lloyd, Brandon Marshall, Brandon Moore, Brit Miller, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Danny Clark, David Diehl, DeMarcus Ware, Denver Broncos, Derek Walker, Eli Manning, Eugene Wilson, Greg Lewis, Hakeem Nicks, Haloti Ngata, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, J Leman, Jacksonville Jaguars, Jason Davis, Jeff Cumberland, John St. Clair, Jon Asamoah, Josh Brent, Kansas City Chiefs, Kelvin Hayden, Kyle Orton, Mark Sanchez, Miami Dolphins, Michael Hoomanawanui, Minnesota Vikings, Monday Night Football, Neil Rackers, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, NFL Week One, Philadelphia Eagles, Pierre Thomas, Pittsburgh Steelers, Rashard Mendenhall, Rejus Benn, Ryan McDonald, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Steve Weatherford, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tony Pashos, Vontae Davis, Washington Redskins, Will Davis, Willie Parker, Xavier Fulton