This was a very special moment for Raiders rookie linebacker, Ben Heeney. He was donning an NFL jersey for the first time as the first step in living his dream. For the occasion, his fiance and mom and dad were in attendance to witness it and he didn't disappoint.
Heeney took the field from the start of this game, entering on special teams for the opening kick.
"It was a little nerve wracking at first but once I got out there and got settled in it was a lot easier." said Heeney.
Heeney would get his chance on defense in the second quarter with the second team. He said he was comfortable by that point while his performance on the field made the opposing offense decidedly uncomfortable.
On his second snap of the game, he had a run stuff in short yardage. On that same drive, he would chase down Rams quarterback Case Keenum to the sideline for what would be a sack for no gain. By the time his day was done, he was the Raiders leading tackler with 8 combined tackles (6 solo), a sack and a QB hit.
On those plays, his abilities as a middle linebacker were on full display. Even at a somewhat undersized 6-0, 230 pounds, he sheds blocks incredibly well. He also flashed rare closing speed and tackling in space. Head coach Jack Del Rio appreciates the kind of linebacker he drafted.
"Very active," Jack Del Rio said of Heeney. "That's what we see in practice every day. He flies around, he's very active, I think he led the team tonight in tackles. Speed showed up. That one time the quarterback tried to break contain and he ran him down for a sack I think it ended up being. That was his speed. That's one of the reasons we have him here."
"Fundamentals of blocking and shedding blocks are at the forefront of good offense and good defense. You know what I mean? He's a guy that likes to stick it in a little. We've worked hard with him. We'll continue to work with him. We've still got work to do, but the more he can utilize his hands and separate so he can use his speed. He's got terrific speed. The more he can keep himself alive by utilizing his hands, the better."
"I'm just gonna fly around and try to make plays," said Heeney. "I think I did a little bit of that tonight. I missed a couple that I wish I could get back, but that's what film's for."
"A couple times I got held up but just something I need to work on a little bit more. For the most part I did pretty good."
The fifth round rookie showed the same enthusiasm in the game as he showed when he was drafted because he's living out goals he set forth when he was 12 years old. For times like this, he would have liked to have had a keepsake to mark the occasion.
"Special moment definitely," said Heeney. "I wanted to keep the jersey after this just for all the sweat and dirt on it and stuff, but they said that's the only jersey they have made at the moment, so we couldn't keep them. But I'm gonna definitely get that one back when we get the next jersey made. I wish they wouldn't (wash it), but it's gotta look nice for the next game."
If he keeps playing like he did today, he will have plenty of game worn Raiders jerseys, making his first one all the more special.