Buffalo Bills rookie defensive end Aaron Maybin made his professional debut on Saturday night in a 17-0 pre-season loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Maybin took the field for the first time as a pro with only one week of practice under his belt.
It quickly became apparent that Maybin is already the best pass rusher on his new team. (Yes, I'm aware Aaron Schobel did not play.)
Considering the one week of practice and his being nearly a month behind his teammates, Maybin's work load was predictably light. Buffalo's starting defense played 38 snaps, and Maybin was sprinkled in for nine of them. He'll see much more playing time as he gets more time in the system; for now, a breakdown of those nine meaningful snaps is after the jump.
First thing's first - I only took a look at Maybin in the first half because I didn't want to judge him going up against second-string linemen. Nine snaps isn't an awful lot of playing time, clearly, but it's all we've got to be going on with in terms of reps meaningful to the rest of the season. One last thing before we get into the play-by-play: my gosh, this kid's first step is every bit as quick as advertised. Coming off the ball, he makes the rest of the Bills' defensive linemen look like they're standing still.
Rep 1 (3rd and 3): Maybin takes his first rep on the first drive of the game. (Yes, I was surprised too.) Steelers OT Max Starks and TE Heath Miller effectively double Maybin on the play, as both get hand jabs in on him. He's stood up, and the play goes away from him. Not a lot to report from his first NFL snap.
Rep 2 (2nd and 10): This was one of two snaps Maybin took that didn't take place on third down. On this particular play, QB Ben Roethlisberger checked off to a run away from Maybin. As such, there isn't an awful lot to report here. Miller, who was blocking Maybin, got into him a little and drove him back a yard or two, but Maybin ran away from the block as he pursued from behind. He gets after it in pursuit.
Rep 3 (3rd and 10): Going against Starks one-on-one, Maybin dips his shoulder and easily gets the edge. When Roethlisberger steps up into the pocket, Maybin makes a nice counter-move against Starks, who isn't anywhere near the athlete Maybin is. Good arm movements on his counter moves. He may be light, but his long, chiseled arms allow him to hold up relatively well. He's physical. Maybin also got in a bit of a late hit on Roethlisberger on this play, gently nudging him to the turf well after the ball was thrown.
Rep 4 (3rd and 8): Bursts off the line, and Mewelde Moore came out to chip him. He spun away from the sudden double-team, but ran into the left guard and didn't have a lane to get through. Great athleticism with a dose of bad luck.
Rep 5 (3rd and 10): Lined up at left end, the only time he was lined up anywhere other than right end. (Yes, that means he didn't take any reps at LB in the first half.) He crashed inside on the play, allowing John McCargo to stunt outside him. Got those long arms working against the guard and had a really nice push with his legs to collapse the pocket, but Roethlisberger was still able to deliver the ball.
Rep 6 (3rd and 4): This was his only red zone rep of the first half. Rushed right at Starks, who looked like he had him stymied, but Maybin gave him a pop and Starks was instantly on his heels, reeling. A nice blitz effort from Reggie Corner flushed Roethlisberger to the left, and as he'd already created separation, Maybin simply read the QB and wrapped Big Ben up for his first live NFL sack.
Rep 7 (3rd and 7): Made Starks look silly with his speed and shoulder dip, easily gaining the edge. The ball, however, came out quick (and Leodis McKelvin made a really nice stop to snuff out the drive). After this play, Roethlisberger waved off the punt team to try to hard count the Bills into an offsides and a cheap first down. Maybin showed good poise and discipline there, not jumping; Kyle Williams, meanwhile, jumped twice, and had Roethlisberger snapped the ball, it would have been first down. Good heads up play there by Maybin.
Rep 8 (3rd and 8): Once again, he beats Starks and gains the edge with a great shoulder dip. As Dick Jauron puts it, he "cornered" - or circled the tackle and pursued the QB from behind - very, very well on this play. So much so, in fact, that Starks blatantly held Maybin to allow Roethlisberger to get the ball off. Without that hold, Maybin has a sack, and possibly even a forced fumble.
Rep 9 (1st and 10): His only first-down rep of the half. This play wasn't great on Maybin's part. The Steelers zone blocked, with Heath Miller getting into Maybin first. Maybin separated quickly, but had nowhere to go as Starks was waiting in the lane. Buffalo's coverage was good, so Roethlisberger started to move to his right. Maybin left his gap and crashed hard in pursuit; Roethlisberger eventually migrated back to the left, where Maybin should have been, and had plenty of field in front of him. He'd eventually float a pass to Miller for a big gain and a first down.
Dick Jauron really went out of his way to praise Maybin after the game:
"Frankly, I was more pleased than I thought I’d be," Jauron said. "I didn’t expect much from him. I thought his legs would be very heavy and he’d be way behind, but he came off the ball. He looked very quick. I thought he looked fast off the ball. I thought he got the edge on the guys a couple of times. I thought he cornered well, so I was very pleased."
I, too, was pleasantly surprised - and relieved. We know what type of athlete Maybin is. I'm telling you now, if he plays like that, those long arms of his are going to make things happen in the form of forced fumbles. He was a lot more physical than I expected him to be. He has surprisingly good technique for a player so young and inexperienced - though it's also pretty obvious that he's green in this department, and is a little rough around the edges.
My headline is a little bold here. Well, no, it really isn't. The reason I believe Maybin is already the team's best pass rusher has nothing to do with consternation towards the current defensive ends - y'all have that covered. I put him at the top because as far as I've seen, he's the only end on the roster that has shown the aptitude and athleticism to bust out a counter move. He was moving toward the quarterback almost with ease, considering his only being here a week.
This was a good start for Maybin, but close isn't good enough. He's got a ways to go. But he definitely made some things happen last night, and he absolutely showed that he was deserving of the No. 11 overall pick. He's obviously motivated. His future is very, very bright.