New York Jets fans will be glued to television sets on Saturday for quarterback Geno Smith's first NFL start.
Smith isn't the only high-profile rookie set to play big minutes in Week 3 of the NFL's preseason schedule, however.
The first two weeks of the preseason schedule featured many a cameo appearance by top rookies who are primed to become starters for their respective teams.
Coaches used the first two games to evaluate the bottom half of the roster, and Week 3 is when the starters have a chance to develop chemistry. Most teams will play their starters through halftime, and some will play them through the third quarter.
It's the final tuneup before the regular season, as Week 4 will be the last chance teams will have to evaluate the players on the roster bubble.
These are the rookies you'll want to keep an eye on as they attempt to establish some positive momentum heading into the regular season.
Geno Smith, Quarterback, New York Jets (at New York Giants)
Smith is being given every opportunity to earn the starting job over Mark Sanchez, as the announcement that he'd be starting in Week 3, as noted by ESPN New York's Rich Cimini, clearly illustrates.
Ryan makes it official: Geno Smith will start. Sanchez also will play. #Jets— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) August 22, 2013
Sanchez, after getting off to a brilliant start in his first two seasons with the Jets, has regressed badly the past two seasons. And, judging by his performances in both the first two preseason games, it doesn't appear he's going to turn things around anytime soon.
Who should start for the Jets in Week 1?
For his part, Smith looked a bit tentative in Game 1 before suffering the ankle injury that kept him out of last week's game. That said, he put up nice numbers while he was in the game, completing 5-of-6 passes for 47 yards.
Many wondered if his injury would force the Jets to start the season with Sanchez behind center, but with a strong performance in Week 3, it seems clear Smith could claim that job with ease.
Jarvis Jones, Linebacker, Pittsburgh Steelers (vs. Kansas City Chiefs)
The Pittsburgh Steelers made a smart choice drafting Jones with the No. 17 overall pick of the 2013 NFL draft. While the team's defense was strong against both the run and the pass last year, it ranked near the bottom of the league in terms of turnovers created (20).
Thankfully, as noted by Trey Wingo of ESPN, Jones has already shown himself to be the kind of game-changing defender the team lacked last year with two big plays this preseason, and Ike Taylor recently told NFL Network's Dave Dameshek the rookie is "a turnover machine":
Jarvis Jones just showed you what was missing from the Steelers #1 ranked defense last year...game changing turnovers— trey wingo (@wingoz) August 20, 2013
Ike Taylor told me Jarvis Jones is "a turnover machine" on today's podcast. The Machine is in fine working order. http://t.co/7f7RcMeLlk— Dave Dameshek (@Dameshek) August 20, 2013
Based on the way the San Francisco 49ers were able to overwhelm the offensive line of Kansas City last week, there's a good chance Jones and his teammates will be able to do the same on Saturday.
It seems unlikely that Jones will unseat either Lamarr Woodley or Jason Worilds in the starting lineup before Game 1 of the regular season. Both are more disciplined against the run and understand their assignments better than Jones does.
That said, if he continues to make game-changing plays on a regular basis, the Steelers will have no choice but to play Jones on a regular basis.
Tavon Austin, Wide Receiver, St. Louis Rams (at Denver Broncos)
Through two preseason games, Austin hasn't lived up to the incredible hype he's generated this summer. He failed to catch a single pass in the Rams' first preseason game and then caught four passes for just 28 yards in Game 2, with a long reception of 15 yards.
It's worth pointing out, however, that Austin has been lighting it up throughout training camp.
Mike Mayock of NFL Network, who has been watching NFL tape since before some of us were born, recently said the receiver, "might be the most explosive player I've ever seen in my life," as noted by NFL: AroundTheLeague:
Mayock: Rams rookie Tavon Austin "might be the most explosive player I've ever seen in my life" http://t.co/NmOo6Q2kUi— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) August 6, 2013
Furthermore, he's only lined up for 25 total offensive snaps in the team's first two games, as noted by ESPN's Nick Wagoner, and many analysts believe the Rams are hiding him until the regular season.
If ever the Rams intended on finally unveiling some of the Austin-tailored packages this preseason, it's going to be this week. Barring injury, it's likely he and the rest of the Rams starters will play well into the third quarter, which will give us a bigger sample size from which to judge the rookie.
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