Usually, football fans never give unheralded players a chance in their first appearance on the field, as they expect them to execute at a high level. Coaches, however, have a different approach; they almost always come from a survivalist mentality.
They’re comfortable with the less-experienced players on the field because they were given enough reps with the first team during the practice week. This experience usually helps them to make plays on Sundays.
Here are some players that are making the most of their golden opportunity.
The Houston Texans have a playoff-caliber offense, but to finally reach the postseason, QB T.J. Yates must make impact plays to win games. It’s the nature of the quarterback position to either get all of the blame or all the credit.
Trying to play like Matt Schaub would be a mistake; Yates must trust his own skills and allow his teammates the opportunity to make plays. How well he handles all of the pressure will help determine how far the Texans will go in January.
Before his knee injury, RB Matt Forte was putting up huge numbers (997 rushing yards, three rushing touchdowns and 52 receptions for 490 yards) that screamed for a big-money contract in the offseason.
His workload and efficiency went down significantly in 2010, as Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz envisioned him to step into the Marshall Faulk role of his high-powered offense.
It failed horribly last season, but Forte's production this year has been crucial to solidify his role as a feature back and limit the touches given to free-agent acquisition Marion Barber.
The New York Jets are in dire need of a pass rush, so the team took a flier on first-round bust LB Aaron Maybin. He has quickly shown himself to be a pass-rushing specialist that can create havoc in the backfield.
And with experience, Maybin will only get better.
The Jets defense cannot stop a good offensive team on every possession without a consistent pass rush, as opposing quarterbacks have too much time to pick apart a quality secondary. Look for head coach Rex Ryan to install blitz schemes to utilize Maybin’s speed to harass quarterbacks.
The New York Giants have no offensive identity and should scrap the running game to concentrate on just throwing the football. QB Eli Manning has adapted well to the three-step drop, thus allowing his speedy receivers to make plays from their short passing game.
Quietly, WR Victor Cruz has become a great complement receivers opposite Hakeem Nicks, having gained the trust of his quarterback as the season progressed.
Yes, he will make mental mistakes on the field, but Cruz has been awful clutch at the end of games. Giant fans need to be patient and watch him mature before their eyes, as Cruz could likely supplant Mario Manningham in the starting lineup next season.
Antonio Brown might be the NFL’s best hidden gem, as he’s never mentioned in the conversion about the top receivers in the AFC.
Brown caught only 16 passes in nine regular-season games last season, but no catch was bigger than Brown’s third-down reception against the Jets late in the AFC Championship game. His explosive speed allows him to break a simple pass play into a long touchdown run.
I definitely get the feeling that Brown will delivering big plays in the NFL for many years to come.