On Friday night, Cleveland Browns rookie defensive lineman Emmanuel Ogbah played in his first NFL game. It was only a pre-season game against an Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers team, but Ogbah balled nonetheless. The former Oklahoma State standout finished the game with a team-leading six tackles, including two for a loss, plus one very impressive sack.
Toward the end of the fourth quarter, Packers quarterback Marquise Williams, who rushed for just under 1,000 yards for the University of North Carolina last year, rolled out of the pocket to his left and took off toward the sideline. Ogbah, who was being blocked in the middle of the field, broke away from his man and chased Williams down for a 1-yard loss.
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Watching Ogbah on that play, you’d never know that the Browns’ second-round pick had nothing left in the tank. After the game, Browns head coach Hue Jackson said part of what impressed him the most about Ogbah’s performance was how he kept going despite having nothing left.
“The fun part about watching him is he got tired at one time. I could tell he was very tired, and the next thing, he is chasing the quarterback toward the sideline and getting him down,” Jackson said. “That’s impressive to me. That’s the way you have to play.”
Jackson hasn’t been shy about calling his players out for being out of football shape. After first-round pick Corey Coleman’s first practice, Jackson commented that he needed to get in better shape, and do it quickly. Being called out in the press could rub certain guys the wrong way, but Ogbah admitted that Jackson was spot on about him being totally out of fuel.
“Oh yeah,” Ogbah said when told of Jackson’s comments. “I was a little gassed. It was a long drive, but I just kept pushing myself.”
The pace of NFL games is almost impossible for rookies to prepare for until they have actually experienced their first game. So this isn’t just an Emmanuel Ogbah thing; it’s an every rookie thing. Just ask Clay Matthews, the Pro Bowl linebacker for the Packers, who spent his first NFL action chasing around then-Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young.
“Vince Young, like a 12-play drive, no huddle, I was gassed,” Matthews told Packers.com. “I didn’t think I was going to make it very long in this league.”
The NFL is hard enough for guys with years of experience under their belts. That’s why Jackson—and other coaches who deal with rookies sucking wind during their first pre-season games—have to be impressed when a guy still gives maximum effort. Ogbah is going to be alright.