The wait is over for Jason Cabinda.
After spending the first six weeks of the season on the Oakland Raiders practice squad, the rookie linebacker was elevated to the active roster following the team's return from London, and with the bye now in the rearview mirror, the former Penn State Nittany Lion is poised to make his NFL debut Sunday afternoon against the Indianapolis Colts.
"I'm lucky because I've actually been through a similar situation," said Cabinda when discussing his time on the practice squad. "When I first got to Penn State, those first four games, I was actually supposed to red shirt, and then my coach told me, 'just keep preparing like you're a starter. You may never know what happen. You're an injury away,' and that's what I did. I'm lucky that I've actually been in this position before, so I kind of know what I need to do, and how I need to prepare to make sure I stay on top of everything."
As is the case in the NFL, Cabinda coming up meant that a roster spot had to open up, and in this instance, that spot was freed up by the team parting ways with veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson.
And although Johnson's tenure in Silver and Black was a short one, he left a lasting impact on Cabinda during their brief time together.
"I learned a ton from D.J.," Cabinda explained. "That was the first guy I really talked to when I got here, and have been picking his brain apart, day after day, after day. I texted him so many times, question after question, probably bothered him a few times to be honest, but he was so helpful. He's a great vet. The guy's played a lot of ball, obviously, and played at a very high level for a long time. Being able to learn from a guy like that and see how his mind ticks, and what he sees when he's out there. That's huge for a guy like me."
After an ultra-productive career at Penn State – his 286 tackles rank No. 9 in program history – Cabinda went undrafted, eventually spending the offseason workout program and training camp with the Silver and Black.
He then enjoyed a strong preseason, finishing the four-week stint with an impressive 28 tackles, and two tackles for loss, and although he wasn't a member of the team's initial 53-man roster, according to Cabinda, he's a better player today than he was two months ago.
"Just overall knowledge of the game," Cabinda said when asked where he's improved. "Continue to have a really good handle on our system, and a good handle on the bigger picture, besides just my position, and knowing where everyone's supposed to be, just knowing the concepts of how we're supposed to play sound defense."
"From the very beginning, Cabinda showed that he's a smart guy," added defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. "He understands the whole picture, not just his spot. We just kind of brought him in as a free agent, and he flashed some in the camps, and as the practices went on, he was working on the scout team, and you see him flash around there, and you're saying, 'this guy can be a really special player,' because he can be the guy that orchestrates everything in there for you. We felt it was time for him to get up to the live action and see what he can do."
Guenther said that he expects Cabinda to get some run against the Colts – how much he actually plays remains to be seen – but for a defense that has struggled to put together a complete 60 minutes, hopefully the rookie can add a spark.
"I'm just going to go out there, and be me," Cabinda said. "Be a leader, be a guy who gets after it, is physical is tough, be a sure tackler. Just be where I need to be at all times, make plays."