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Northwestern in the NFL 2021, Week 2: Young Wildcats carve out roles

Welcome back to play, Joe Gaziano!

Houston Texans v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

If you didn’t like what you saw from the Wildcats on Saturday, you had a chance to see some old faces rep the Northwestern name proudly on Sunday and Monday.

Here’s how the NFL ‘Cats did this past week.

Rashawn Slater: Los Angeles Chargers, OT

Can a lineman win offensive rookie of the year? Maybe not, but Slater deserves recognition for his instant success at the pro level. For the second game in a row, he played all of the Chargers’ snaps and gave up no sacks. Additionally, Slater did such a great job blocking Dallas linebacker Micah Parsons that the Cowboys decided to switch his pass-rushing side mid-game.

With the way he’s performed thus far, Slater looks to be well on his way to All-Rookie honors, if not more.

Dean Lowry: Green Bay Packers, DE

Lowry picked up three tackles Monday as the Packers defeated the Detroit Lions 35-17. His most impactful play was an assisted run stop on 1st and Goal early in the game, although the Lions would score on the next play.

Now a six-year vet in the NFL, Lowry needs to have a larger effect on this Packers defense. Otherwise, he may be replaced by a younger talent.

Greg Newsome II: Cleveland Browns, CB

Newsome delivered another solid performance for the Browns’ secondary in Week 2. The rookie corner finished with three tackles and a crucial pass defended, which came on a deep third-down throw late in the fourth quarter that quashed Houston’s comeback hopes. This pivotal play made up for a DPI called on him earlier in the quarter that set up a Texans score.

If Newsome continues to make winning plays, he’ll cement his status as a starter on a Browns team that hopes to make a deep playoff run.

Anthony Walker Jr.: Cleveland Browns, LB

After an impressive 10 tackle team debut last week, Walker suffered a hamstring injury and was forced to sit out the Browns’ matchup against the Texans. The veteran linebacker was placed on the injured reserve, meaning he will be eligible to return in Week 5.

Given that he played all but two snaps in the season opener, Walker should be expected to anchor the Cleveland defense upon his return. The Browns will need his tackling ability down the stretch of the season, especially in such a run heavy division.

Tyler Lancaster: Green Bay Packers, DE

Though still playing a minority of Green Bay’s total snaps, Lancaster did manage to record one tackle in the Packers’ win Monday night.

The Packers may be looking to upgrade their defensive line this coming offseason, especially considering how rarely the opposing quarterback has been pressured in their first two games, so Lancaster needs to make a statement in practice and games if he wants to return to Lambeau next year.

Justin Jackson: Los Angeles Chargers, RB

After being put into a committee following lead back Austin Ekeler’s injury last year, JJTBC has emerged as the clear backup to Ekeler to start this season. Jackson picked up 21 yards on four rushing attempts and added an eight yard catch in a losing effort against Dallas.

The Chargers rely heavily on Ekeler in the passing game, which could leave Jackson additional work in the backfield. The fourth-year back has yet to emerge as a bell cow runner, but he continues to be efficient in limited action.

Joe Gaziano: Los Angeles Chargers, LB

Gaz was activated from the Chargers’ practice squad this weekend and appeared in just his third NFL game. He recorded one tackle, stopping Ezekiel Elliott in the red zone, which ultimately kept the Cowboys from scoring a touchdown.

Gaziano will likely find himself back on the practice squad as the Chargers’ defensive line gets healthy, but the undrafted linebacker’s involvement when active bodes well for his opportunities down the road.

Godwin Igwebuike: Detroit Lions, KR

He’s played safety, running back, and now kick returner in just a few years in the league, but constantly changing positions doesn’t seem to have altered Igewbuike’s ability to impact the game. The undrafted fourth-year had two kick returns for a total of 54 yards and added a special teams tackle to boot.

Through two games, Igwebuike ranks seventh among players in kick yards with 109 yards and third in kicks returned with 6.

Blake Hance: Cleveland Browns, OG

Hance made his 2021 debut Sunday while starting tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. fought through an ankle injury. The third year guard played 30% of the teams snaps and was instrumental in the Browns’ victory, in which the line gave up only two sacks and two quarterback hits.

Assuming Willis is healthy for Week 3, Hance will return to a backup role. It’s clear, however, that the NU alum is Kevin Stefanski’s first choice to fill in any holes on the vaunted Cleveland offensive line.

‘Cats that didn’t play this week: Ben Skowronek (Los Angeles Rams), John Raine (Atlanta Falcons), Blake Gallagher (Baltimore Ravens), Ifeadi Odenigbo (Cleveland Browns), Trevor Siemian (New Orleans Saints), Earnest Brown IV (Los Angeles Rams)