This past Thursday Night, one player that stood out for the Saints defensively was rookie defensive end / edge rusher Al-Quadin Muhammad, who in his first-ever NFL game impressed observers and fans at home alike with a great individual effort.
Perhaps Muhammad's "ears were burning", since I had covered here at the Saints News Network in an article last Tuesday (click HERE to read) after I had several fans ask me about the underrated rookie and how he hadn't been getting much attention from the media through the first 2 weeks of Training Camp.
In that article, I noted that Muhammad was "quietly" having a solid Camp, but would have the opportunity to "make some noise" against the Browns in the 2nd half.
And on cue, Muhammad delivered.
Muhammad had QB 4 pressures, one sack, and another shared sack; and clearly had one of the best performances of the night among this year's rookie Draft class, along with RB Alvin Kamara and LB Alex Anzalone.
Then yesterday at Training Camp, Muhammad was back at it again.
New Orleans Advocate beat writer Nick Underhill observed in his article yesterday afternoon that Muhammad is starting to pick up some momentum. After flashing those few times against the Browns on Thursday Night, he had a pair of sacks during yesterday’s practice.
Underhill adds that there are some injuries at that position, which has allowed him to get more reps, and he’s clearly been taking advantage of his opportunities.
But as Underhill cautioned in a Tweet last night, the rookie also has some things that he need to get "cleaned up". In that same game, Muhammad gave up a couple of running plays, "bit" on option, and once got too wide in his pass rush, allowing Browns rookie QB DeShone Kizer to run for a big gain.
Muhammad had 4 pressures, one sack, and another shared sack. Gave up a couple runs. Bit on option. Once got too wide in his rush and QB ran
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) August 13, 2017
But nevertheless, the rookie 6th Round pick out of the University of Miami has a lot of promise and potential; as Saints head coach Sean Payton confirmed yesterday during his post-practice press conference.
QUESTION: Is Al-Quadin Muhammad progressing like you would like?
“I think so. He’s going to receive a lot of work in the next couple weeks. He plays with a little bit more power than edge, but he is picking things up. A lot is going on. The first challenge to ability is availability. He’s grinding through it and working through the mistakes, but he is doing well and handling it.”
QUESTION: Did he come in here kind of raw just given his past?
“I don’t know that raw would be the term. He played at a very good high school program in Don Bosco Prep and then a very good college program at Miami. He just missed the last year, but there is an element that you need to have to get him going again.”
Muhammad then showed up to the press conference a few minutes later, where the rookie got some of the attention and media coverage that a lot of Saints fans had been waiting for.
QUESTION: How do you think you played the other night?
"I think it went well. It was my first NFL game, and it went great. I was pretty fired up about it. I felt really comfortable (out there), but there's always room from improvement. I'm trying to perfect what I'm being coached."
QUESTION: Do some of the things that you went through in the past, make you appreciate this even more?
"After some of the things that I went through, I definitely appreciate the opportunity that I've been given. It's awesome, and I just want to thank God for that".
QUESTION: Were you underappreciated because of that past, coming from the University of Miami ?
"I'm not really focused in that. I'm just trying to get netter every day, and do what's asked me".
It goes without saying that Muhammad did what was asked of him against the Browns the other night, and now it would seem to be a simple matter of growing and developing even further as the remainder of the year and the upcoming 2017 NFL season goes along.
Although Muhammad's performance was impressive as it was Thursday Night, he's still only 4th on the team's current depth chart for the moment at the RDE (right defensive end / edge rusher / 9-technique) spot, behind current starter Alex Okafor, #2 RDE Hau'oli Kikaha; and 3rd year veteran Obum Gwacham; and slightly ahead of UDFA rookie Alex Jenkins, who also had a good showing and notched a sack as well.
But here's what I will say in regards to Muhammad's future with the team going forward:
DON'T SLEEP on this kid.
Al-Quadin Muhammad with a nice spin move. pic.twitter.com/CQvDV0r15q
— Nick Underhill (@nick_underhill) August 13, 2017
Yes, he's definitely "raw around the edges", but if molded and developed correctly -- and he has the perfect position coach teaching him in new D-Line coach Ryan Nielsen -- he could turn into something very special for this Saints defense.
There was the thought at first that he might end up on the Practice Squad despite being one of the team's Draft picks, but that performance the other night has changed the equation a bit.
He has an outstanding chance at this point to make the Final 53-man roster and become a significant contributor during the regular season as a back-up RDE in the Saints defensive substitution packages.
For Muhammad, it will simply come down to opportunities, and based on what we saw in Cleveland the other night, the 22-year old intends to take full advantage of every one that he gets.
On cue, Al-Quadin Muhammad delivered --- and it will be interesting to see where he goes from here, the next time another opportunity comes his way............