MINNEAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts were finally able to unleash Kwity Paye on Saturday night, and the talented rookie edge rusher certainly didn't disappoint.
After sitting out the Colts' first preseason game, Paye, the Colts' first-round (21st-overall) pick in this year's NFL Draft out of Michigan, made his professional debut in Saturday's second preseason matchup against the Minneapolis Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Early in the second quarter, Paye used his unique blend of speed and power — and an impressive maneuver with his hands — to get by Vikings left tackle Rashod Hill and take veteran quarterback Kirk Cousins to the ground for his first professional sack.
Welcome to the NFL, rook.
"I think it's great to get some experience — you know, kind of feel it out," Paye told Colts.com's Larra Overton on the sideline during the TV broadcast. "There's nothing like the game. Practice is practice, but when you come out to the game, it's a different feeling for sure."
After playing mostly reserves in their first preseason contest — a 21-18 victory over the Carolina Panthers at Lucas Oil Stadium — Colts head coach Frank Reich decided to play a majority of projected starters in Saturday night's second preseason game against the Vikings, who followed suit with their lineup.
Paye, who sat out the Panthers contest as a precaution due to a minor ankle injury, earned the start at defensive end for the Colts on Saturday night. He logged 15 defensive snaps in all, as well as three special teams snaps, and said he made sure to soak up the experience of his first-ever NFL game at every opportunity.
"It just felt so great to be in that tunnel with the guys, and just to live my dreams, really," he said.
But the rookie also had a job to do.
After delivering some impressive pass-rushing performances in 1-on-1 and team drills throughout training camp, Paye showed he could translate that success into game action. Early in the second quarter, the Vikings, who led 7-6, began a drive with four straight successful run plays of eight, nine, six and nine yards, setting up 1st and 10 at the Indianapolis 32-yard line.
On that play, the Vikings went with play action, trying to fool the Indy defense into packing it in to stop a fifth straight run attempt. But Paye knew what was coming.
"Every time I come off the field, coach (Brian Baker) tells me to just trust it — just stay on that edge and hit that stab-club," Paye said. "So they did a play action play — I knew it was going to be a pass. I just kept going, I rushed and did the stab-club, and ended up with a sack."
That "stab-club" is a pass rush technique that Paye has been working hard to perfect throughout camp. He said he got a little love from defensive line coach Brian Baker when returned to the sideline after his first professional sack.
"Yeah, we shook hands and stuff," Paye said with a smile, "and then after that he started giving me my feedback: 'Just make sure you stay on it.'"
Perhaps most importantly: Paye's big play — resulting in a loss of eight yards — halted the Vikings' momentum. Three plays alter, kicker Greg Joseph would push his 51-yard field goal attempt wide right. The Colts would end up winning the game 12-10 to move to 2-0 on the preseason.
Paye and the Colts wrap up preseason action Friday night on the road, when they take on the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. That game will be played just 45 miles east of Michigan Stadium, where Paye starred as an All-Big Ten selection for the Wolverines.
After getting a taste of that NFL action on Saturday, Paye said he's eagerly awaiting his next opportunity to get on the field with his teammates.
"I think it's great," he said. "In practice, just how we practice, as a defense, how we run to the ball and being able to see it against real competition was amazing. And then to come out here and play with this defense was great."