Howard Registers One and a Half Sacks in NFL Debut
INDIANAPOLIS – From the beginning, he thought it would be a good fit.
Marcus Howard, a rookie defensive end, had watched the Colts while playing for the University of Georgia, and – being undersized compared to some NFL defensive ends – liked how Indianapolis' undersized defensive ends used speed and athleticism to harass quarterbacks.
This past April, the Colts made Howard their fifth-round selection in the 2008 NFL Draft.
On Sunday night, Howard showed why.
Howard, playing as a reserve, made his NFL debut in the Colts' preseason loss to the Washington Redskins, displaying the quickness and athleticism he showed college.
Howard's line for the game:
Nearly 20 plays.
One and half sacks.
And a whole lot speed shown on the field.
"I felt things went pretty good," Howard said this week at Colts 2008 Training Camp, which continued on Thursday with a pair of practices at the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.
"I was a little bit nervous at the beginning of the game, but as the game went on I got relaxed and just let things come to me."
Howard, who played as a reserve until his senior season at Georgia, was drafted in the hopes he would provide the Colts a third pass-rushing presence in addition to two players he admired while in college, three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Dwight Freeney and defensive end Robert Mathis.
On Sunday, he played mostly that role, and Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy said in his first professional game, Howard got professional-level pressure on Washington quarterbacks.
"Marcus did some good things," Dungy said. "He had 19 plays and most of them were in pass-rush situations. Most of it was very, very productive. He had two sacks and had a hit on the quarterback, so it was a good debut for him.
"He was playing against a veteran offensive lineman, so I think getting the sense of what it's going to be like is good, but he had a good start."
Howard (6-feet-0, 237 pounds) played four seasons for Georgia, beginning his career at outside linebacker and switching to defensive end as a sophomore in 2005. He spent his sophomore and junior seasons playing behind Charles Johnson and Quentin Moses, each of whom was selected in the third round of the 2007 Draft – Johnson by the Carolina Panthers and Moses by the Oakland Raiders.
As a senior, he started, finishing the season with 10.5 sacks. He had 12 sacks in four seasons and as a senior, he also registered 42 quarterback pressures, with 12 tackles for losses and three forced fumbles.
He was named the Most Valuable Defensive Player of Georgia's Sugar Bowl victory over Hawaii, then recorded the fastest 40-yard dash time – 4.45 seconds – among defensive ends at the NFL Scouting Combine at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis in February.
That speed, Colts President Bill Polian said upon drafting Howard, made him a logical choice in a defense that emphasizes speed and pass-rushing ability in its defensive linemen.
"I thought it was going to be a good fit, with guys like Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney and some other people," Howard said. "The Tampa 2 defense allows you to be able to roam around and play football. I've been doing the scheme for about two months, so it's starting to come to me, but we still have more things to put in, so I just have to take my time."
While Howard is fast, he said one thing he noticed Saturday was that in the NFL, he is far from alone.
"It's a big difference of speed," Howard said. "I thought it was a big difference of speed during practice, but in the actual game, it's a real big difference."
Howard said this week there is much he must improve this week against Carolina. He wants to work on his "get-off" at the snap of the ball and he also wants to improve his special teams technique.
Still, considering it was his first game, and considering he did what it was the Colts drafted him to do, he said as far as the preseason opener was concerned, "I was pretty pleased."
"I was just trying to go out there and my main goal was to go out and do the right assignments and not mess up," he said. "Everything else was just a big plus for me. It felt pretty good.
"Just putting on this helmet and playing in an NFL game felt pretty good."