All eyes were on number-one draft pick Aaron Maybin Saturday night in the Bills' 17-0 loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite Buffalo's poor overall performance, the defensive end made a strong first impression during his NFL debut with the Bills' only sack of the game.
You would think that a 21-year-old rookie getting his first real taste of professional football would have been nervous – especially playing under the lights at Heinz Field, home of the defending Super Bowl champions. But as the former Penn State star said last Thursday, he never gets nervous.
"Having a chance to play against the Super Bowl champs, even though it is in the preseason, it's always something that you get a little bit excited about," Maybin said.
He would end up having even more reason to be thrilled about his first NFL action. In the second quarter, Maybin sacked Steelers quarterback and Super Bowl XLIII MVP Ben Roethlisberger for a four-yard loss. It helped that the defense had solid coverage, forcing Roethlisberger to hold the ball too long.
Maybin finished the game with two tackles. Besides the sack, he also tackled wide receiver Dallas Baker after a short catch of a pass from backup quarterback Mike Reilly.
His performance was not only impressive because of his rookie status, but also because, after a late contract signing, he only had five practices before the game. Unlike his rookie teammates, Maybin did not participate in any training camp practices.
"Obviously, you're behind as far as the playbook and everything like that," Maybin said. "I was in shape when I (reported), but you're never in football shape until you have the pads on. That kind of stuff plays a factor. I didn't feel behind physically at all. At the end of the day, football is football. I'm going to come in, I'm going to practice hard, and I'm going to play hard when the time comes."
Head coach Dick Jauron was impressed with what he saw from Maybin knowing it was his first outing.
"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."
On his sack, Maybin managed to shake free from offensive tackle Max Starks coming off the right side of the Bills formation, while Reggie Corner came on a corner blitz from the left. Corner's pressure forced Roethlisberger to Maybin's side of the pocket and the Bills top pick pounced.
The defensive end showed good stamina on that and other plays, but with less than a week of practice, he was tired after the game. That was something he anticipated.
"But I felt good," he said. "I felt good enough to get in there and see what I can do against some other competition. That definitely gave me a little indication of where I should be going into this next week of practice."
Maybin's short-term goals are to keep working as hard as he can to make up for missed practice and playing time, as well as attempt to keep up with his competition.
"I just want to make sure that every time I step on the field I get better," he said. "That's all I can really worry about doing as far as practice and how I play. As my practices continue to go on, and I continue to get better at practice, that will carry over to some of my games. I just want to make sure that as a player, I'm a complete player. I want to play the running just as well as I play the pass, my inside rush and my outside rush are equally dangerous. I just want to be the best player I can be."
As impressed as he was with what Maybin did against the Steelers, Jauron is also realistic. He knows there is plenty of work for Maybin to do to fulfill the high expectations that go with being a top draft pick.
"He has to get his legs under him, get more used to the pads, get in football condition, and keep coming off the edge and keep coming off the ball," Jauron said. "As long as the offensive tackles fear the speed off the edge, then we'll be OK with him. That's his gift and he plays hard."