Rookie right guard John Miller barely slept on Saturday night. He was too excited to finally get his chance at the NFL level.
Despite a lack of hype around the 2015 draft class, the Buffalo Bills started a rookie on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball for the fourth straight year, Miller on offense and cornerback Ronald Darby on defense. This year's rookie class made its presence known from the beginning in the Bill's 27-14 romp of the Indianapolis Colts.
Darby, the Bills' second round pick but first selection in the draft, had the toughest assignment of the afternoon. While he and Stephon Gilmore split the left and right sides of the field, Darby regularly lined up across from the Colts best receiver, T.Y. Hilton. Sensing an advantage, quarterback Andrew Luck targeted his top weapon early and often. Darby held firm.
"I knew they were going to test me. Each week I'm going to get tested due to the fact that I'm a rookie, but I trust my team," Darby said.
After allowing an 11-yard reception to Hilton on the Colts' first pass play of the game, Darby showed that he wouldn't let Luck bully him. When Luck targeted Hilton on a second-and-23 later in the drive, Darby made a strong, clean play on the ball, slapping it away with his right hand. Later, with 2:50 left to go in the first quarter, Darby intercepted Luck's underthrown pass to Hilton. The Bills scored their first touchdown on the ensuing possession. The rookie corner registered two pass deflections in addition to the interception.
"It's just a blessing to be here in the NFL and start my first NFL game ever and get an interception on a great quarterback like Andrew Luck," Darby said.
"[Darby's] ready for this league," safety Aaron Williams said. "He's not scared. He's not threatened. He's not any of that. He's very confident in his play. And I told him, 'Hey, you're a rookie, but that doesn't even matter anymore. You're past training camp. It's time for you to show up.' He looked at me in the eyes and said, 'I'm ready.'"
On the opposite side of the ball, Miller was ready, too. The first-year right guard contributed to a group effort on the offensive line that kept quarterback Tyrod Taylor upright and supported a running game that eventually produced. The Colts pass rush never registered a hit on Taylor, who completed 14 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Bills rushers gashed the Colts for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 36 carries.
"I think that I came in and fit in pretty well with those guys, with Richie [Incognito] on the other side and Seantrel [Henderson] next to me. It's a good fit," Miller said about his position on the line.
Perhaps the most unexpected contribution came from fifth-round pick Karlos Williams. The running back from Florida State led the team's ground attack, as he dashed for 55 yards on six carries, including a 26-yard sprint to the end zone on his first career touch in the second quarter. Williams did not have a touchdown dance planned, as his college coach, Jimbo Fisher, discouraged superfluous celebration.
"Being a Florida State kid, we don't really celebrate with Jimbo," he said. "We just hand the ball to the ref. We've been there before."
Williams' production was especially important on a day when LeSean McCoy averaged 2.4 yards per carry. McCoy has faith that Williams will "be there" plenty more in his career.
"He's going to get some carries, spelling me at times," McCoy said of Williams. "He's a fast, tough kid. He was productive in college, and he's productive here. I saw it in camp, so I'm not really surprised."
Veterans such as McCoy and Aaron Williams know this rookie class' impact can be strong this year, and the group of youngsters plans on leaving it all on the field for their veteran teammates.
"Being a first year guy, you want to go out there and put everything on the line for your teammates, for the organization, and for yourself as well," Miller said.
Notes: Williams' touchdown is the first week one rushing touchdown by a Bills rookie since 2007, when Marshawn Lynch scored against the Denver Broncos. Williams also scored a touchdown on his first career carry in college, beating the University of Nevada defense for 65 yards.