Raiders rookie middle linebacker Ben Heeney dropped into shallow coverage near midfield and, when he saw St. Louis Rams quarterback Case Keenum break for the sideline, instinct took over.
The fifth-round draft pick locked on his target and sprinted towards him, pushing Keenum out of bound just before the line of scrimmage. Heeney nudged the quarterback, but he lost control and tumbled over the Rams bench.
Heeney will never forget his first professional sack, even in the preseason. Fans should remember the hustle needed to make that play. That, above all else, is Heeney's signature.
He takes pride in those plays. He took pride in Friday’s 18-3 Raiders victory even thought didn’t count.
He wanted a souvenir, and had no intention of returning the jersey on his back. One problem: the black and silver No. 51 was literally one of a kind.
“The game was definitely a special moment,” Heeney said. “I wanted to keep the jersey after the game, even with all the sweat and dirt on it. Apparently this is the only jersey they have on them at the moment, so I couldn’t take it with me. I definitely want to get it back once they get the next jersey made.
“I wish they wouldn’t wash it, but I guess it has to look good for next game.”
A tattered, blood and grass-stained jersey symbolizes how Heeney plays. He’s all hustle, a 6-foot, 235-pound Tasmanian devil, chasing the football with tireless drive.
“That’s what I’ve staked my game on,” Heeney said. “That’s the only way I know how to play.”
Heeney’s play earned a team-high eight tackles and a sack in 32 defensive snaps, and was an active part of Raiders special teams.
“He was very active, and that’s what we see in practice every day,” head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He flies around. He’s very, very active. His speed showed up. I know that one time the quarterback tried to break contain and he laid him down for a sack. That was his speed. That’s one of the reasons we have him.”
Partial credit goes to one of Del Rio’s old teammates. Mike Bell, who play on the Kansas City Chiefs with Del Rio, sent the Raiders head coach a text at the NFL scouting combine recommending he focus on the fiery linebacker from the University of Kansas. Heeney stood out on tape and flashed excellent speed at the combine. That led to a Heeney selection at No. 140 overall, owning rights to a player they could immediately contribute on special teams and develop into a solid pro. Effort and shedding blocks in mandatory for a someone relatively undersized middle linebacker at 6-feet, 235 pounds.
“We’ve worked hard with him, and we’ll continue to work with him,” Del Rio said. “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.”
Heeney will pour signature energy into fixes in his fledgling career, especially while adjusting to the rigors of playing middle linebacker in the NFL.
“It’s a lot different than college, just the calls, adjustments,” Heeney said. “There is a lot more to it in the NFL, but I’ve got guys like Curtis Lofton and Malcolm Smith helping me out. Those guys definitely brought me along.
“…For the most part, I thought I did pretty well tonight. A couple of plays I wish I could have done a little something different, but we’ll see it on film and get coached up.”