The NFL season kicks off this Thursday, and with it a number of former local standouts are set to make big impacts with their respective teams. Throughout the coming season local fans will have ample opportunity to see those they cheered for at both the local collegiate and prep levels play big roles as professionals.
Utah State fans will want to tune in for the league’s opening game, which features former Aggies Bobby Wagner and Robert Turbin playing for the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks versus the Green Bay Packers. The kickoff weekend wraps up late Monday night with former Utah Ute Eric Weddle starring at safety for the San Diego Chargers in their game versus the Arizona Cardinals.
In between Thursday’s and Monday’s late game will be 14 others — most of which feature former players who starred in-state at either the collegiate or prep level. Some will be featured prominently while others hope to make a splash as rookies or relatively new players to the league.
Indeed, the 2014 NFL season involves a fair share of intriguing storylines for local players, and here's a look at several of them.
Aggies in Seattle: Linebacker Bobby Wagner and running back Robert Turbin both played significant roles for the Seahawks during their Super Bowl run last season and will work to reprise, and even expand, those roles in 2014.
Wagner is expected to start at middle linebacker again for what most consider the best defense in the league. The 6-foot-1, 241-pound former Aggie has led the Seahawks in tackles for the last two seasons and is a good bet to do so again.
Turbin, meanwhile, has again secured second-team duties at running back behind Marshawn Lynch. As Lynch ages, Turbin's role may be expanded this year and could subsequently improve on his 264 yards of rushing gained in 2013.
Ravens raring to go: Perhaps no NFL team will likely feature more local players playing prominant roles than the Baltimore Ravens this season. Former Highland High star Haloti Ngata will again lead the interior of the Raven's defense line and will seek to be named a Pro-Bowl performer for a sixth straight time.
Former BYU Cougar tight end Dennis Pitta sat out most of last season with injury but looks to be featured in new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's system. Former Ute receiver Steve Smith joins the Ravens after spending 13 successful years with the Carolina Panthers.
Chief impact: The Kansas City Chiefs had a breakthrough year in 2013 under first-year head coach Andy Reid, who played for BYU. This season they'll work to make another impact and a deeper run in the playoffs with former Ute quarterback Alex Smith leading the charge on offense. Smith is coming off his best season as a pro last season and will work to improve on his 3,313 yards passing and 431 yards rushing in 2014.
Another Smith — former Ute cornerback Sean Smith — helped vault the Chiefs' defense to among the league's best and is again expected to start at one cornerback position.
Former Cougar Daniel Sorensen has filled in admirably for the injured Eric Berry at strong safety throughout the preseason and could make a big impact as an undrafted rookie.
Lion defense: BYU fans will be sure to follow the Detroit Lions and former defensive greats Ezekiel Ansah and Kyle Van Noy.
Ansah has struggled through injury for most of the offseason but is expected to start at defensive end for his sophomore campaign.
Van Noy was also making a push to start at outside linebacker as a rookie, but recently underwent surgery on a core muscle that will likely sideline him for some time. How long exactly is undetermined.
Former Aggie cornerback Nevin Lawson will also look to make an impact with the Lions during his rookie season.
Best of the rest: Former Ute Eric Weddle has risen to become one of the premier safeties in the entire league and is fresh off four straight selections as an All-Pro performer. Weddle will again lead a San Diego Charger defense that hopes to make the playoffs again this season.
The Carolina Panther defense made great strides last season, and a lot of it was due to the play of former Ute Star Lotulelei. As a rookie, Lotulelei starred at defensive tackle and quickly rose to be considered one of the league's better interior linemen.
Paul Kruger, another former Ute, played big at outside linebacker his first season as a Cleveland Brown last season and will work to make a bigger impact this season.
Yet another former Ute, Zane Beadles, signed as a free agent with the Jacksonville Jaguars after spending four years in Denver. Beadles is expected to help lead an offensive line that hopes to see marked improvement from last season.
Former Ute Koa Misi has been named the starting middle linebacker for the Miami Dolphins entering the 2014 season.
Former Timpview standout Stephen Paea is again expected to start at tackle for the Chicago Bears.