Linebacker Ben Heeney Paces Defense In NFL Debut

Ben Heeney recorded his first preseason sack in Friday night's game against the St. Louis Rams, but the rookie linebacker had no idea. With 11:11 left in the second quarter, Rams quarterback Case Keenum rolled to his right, and after unsuccessfully finding a receiver to throw to, was forced out of bounds by Heeney at the line of scrimmage.

"That counted as a sack?" said Heeney when told about the play's designation. "That's what's up. We were just in man coverage and I was manned to the [running back]. The back went into the flat and Keenum kept the ball, and I just got off my man coverage and chased him out of bounds. I didn't know it was a sack at all, so that's what's up."

Heeney's sack was just one aspect of the rookie linebacker's impressive preseason debut.

When all was said and done, he finished the game as the team's leader in tackles (8 total), and was an ever present figure around the ball during his time on the field.

"It was cool just to be able to step in there and make a little bit of an impact," Heeney said.

Impressive performance aside, the rookie did cop to having some pregame nerves before his first game in Silver and Black.

"It's nerve racking just to finally get to this point and play in an NFL game," Heeney said. "Obviously it's going to be nerve racking for the first one, but once I got in there and got comfortable everything settled down."

The Raiders fifth-round pick settled down quite nicely, and while he said the overall speed of the game took some getting adjusted to, he was not overwhelmed by the bright lights off his first NFL game.

"Everybody here is the best player from their college, respectively," Heeney said. "It's just the best of the best. It's the NFL, and I'm just happy to be a part of it and to have made a little bit of an impact tonight."

That doesn't mean that the gravity of making his professional debut escaped the rookie though.

"This morning when I woke up, it was the first thing I thought about," Heeney said. "This is what I've been thinking of since I was a little kid. I've been working towards this since I started playing football in third grade. It's a great feeling."

The Raiders have three more exhibition games before they open the 2015 regular season at home against the Cincinnati Bengals September 13, and in that time, Heeney has several areas of his game he wants to work at – particularly his aggressiveness.

"Just attack a little bit more," Heeney said. "There were a couple of plays I could have shot a gap and got a tackle for loss that I didn't do, but I think for the most part I'm happy with my performance. I have a couple of things I need to clean up."

As of Monday, Heeney was listed second on the depth chart at middle linebacker, behind veteran Curtis Lofton, and while he's happy with he put on tape Friday night, more snaps are the furthest thing from his mind.

"I'm just going to do what I've been doing," Heeney said. "I'm not really worried about playing time. I think I'm going to get my fair share, and whatever happens, happens, but I'm just going to keep doing what I'm doing and try to improve every day."

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