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Pitt Stars Shine in First Weekend of NFL Preseason



Former Pitt football quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pittsburgh Steelers

This list doesn’t even account for players like Patrick Jones II, Erick Hallett, Damarri Mathis or quite a few others who had solid if unspectacular preseason debuts, but a lot of Pitt stars were making plays over the weekend.

Let’s take a look at some of the top Pitt men who made an impact in the first weekend of preseason football.

Kenny Pickett — Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback

Pickett completed 6-of-7 pass attempts for 70 yards and a touchdown in one series of action in the Steelers’ preseason opener Friday night.

It seems unlikely that Pickett will see much more preseason action, showing progression during his one series already, and it was an excellent showing that points to a potential breakout season on the horizon.

Dane Jackson — Buffalo Bills cornerback

Jackson recorded a tackle, a pass breakup and picked off Indianapolis Colts rookie Anthony Richardson in his preseason debut. It was an excellent return to the field for Jackson, who should continue to serve as a key piece in the Bills’ secondary.

Damar Hamlin — Buffalo Bills safety

It was a miraculous return to the field for Hamlin, the first time he played in a professional football game since he suffered a cardiac arrest at Paycor Stadium in January. He racked up three tackles, including a fourth down run stuff to force a turnover on downs.

The NFL Comeback Player of the Year campaign begins now.

Israel Abanikanda — New York Jets running back.

Another game, another (should have been) touchdown.

Abanikanda followed up his strong Hall of Fame game with an even stronger performance, racking up 12 carries for 56 yards (4.7 yards per attempt) and three receptions for 31 yards. He flashed his speed and agility with a beautiful spin move on a 27-yard dash to the end zone.

Izzy is looking like a rookie runner who could work his way into legitimate playing time this season.

Jared Wayne — Houston Texans wide receiver

Wayne hauled in his one target for a 19-yard pickup, creating some nice separation on a crisp post route. Unfortunately, according to KCRP2’s Aaron Wilson, he strained his hamstring and will miss a couple of weeks. But he avoided a major injury as he looks to crack a regular season roster.

Jason Pinnock — New York Giants cornerback

Pinnock made waves with a leaping one-handed interception in the end zone during the Giants’ training camp earlier this month, and he was back at it during the Giants’ first preseason game against the Detroit Lions.

He recorded two tackles, a tackle for loss, two pass breakups and picked off Lions backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld. But a fourth down pass breakup may have been even more eventful.

Pinnock has put together back-to-back good seasons to begin his NFL career, and he should be even better in Year 3.

Habakkuk Baldonado — New York Giants defensive end

Baldonado racked up three tackles (one solo), a tackle for loss and a sack — and had another called back because of iffy refereeing. It was a dominant effort in his NFL debut.

He went undrafted after a disappointing final season at Pitt, but his skill, effort and intangibles have always been apparent. If he’s able to continue to make such an impact over the Giants’ next two games, he should be in a good place to crack the regular season roster.

Jaylen Twyman — Miami Dolphins defensive tackle

It hasn’t been the easiest road for Twyman since he opted out of Pitt’s COVID season, but he found himself back in the equation in the Dolphins’ first preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Twyman recorded three tackles (one solo), a tackle for loss, a sack and a quarterback hit in a losing effort. He’s been a practice squad player over the last couple of seasons, but a strong preseason could help get him to stick in the NFL permanently.

Qadree Ollison — Jacksonville Jaguars running back.

Ollison didn’t get any carries for the Jaguars in a win over the Dallas Cowboys, his old team, but he did take his one reception for a 21-yard touchdown. Ollison is a big returner, and he’ll look to find a team where he’ll be able to utilize his talents this season.

SirVocea Dennis — Tampa Bay Buccaneers linebacker

Dennis started the Buccaneers’ first preseason game of the season against the Steelers, tackling Steelers wideout Diontae Johnson on the first drive of the game. He likely won’t start in 2023, but he should be a key reserve this season after a strong camp and preseason.

Rashad Weaver — Tennessee Titans edge rusher

Weaver put together a strong performance against the Chicago Bears, racking up two tackles (one solo) and a tackle for loss. After a breakout season in a reserve role last season, Weaver is primed for an even bigger role in the Titans’ defense.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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