NAPA, Calif. (AP) Ben Heeney's exhibition debut went so well for the Oakland Raiders that he wanted to save his jersey as a keepsake with all the stains and sweat as memories.
The only problem was that was Heeney's only game-ready jersey so it went back to the equipment staff to get washed for the next game.
''I wish they wouldn't, but it has to look nice for the next game,'' he said.
If Heeney keeps playing as well as he did in his first exhibition game, he will have plenty more game-used jerseys to choose from.
Heeney was one of Oakland's top performers last Friday night against the St. Louis Rams, recording a team-high eight tackles, one sack and a quarterback hit while getting 32 snaps as a backup inside linebacker.
''He's very active,'' coach Jack Del Rio said. ''That's what we see in practice every day. He flies around. He's very, very active. His speed showed up. That one time the quarterback tried to break contain and he ran him down for a sack. That's just speed. That's one of the reasons we have him here.''
Heeney has been one of the pleasant surprises during training camp. A fifth-round pick out of Kansas, Heeney joined a linebacking position that had been significantly upgraded in the offseason with the additions of Curtis Lofton and former Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith.
Heeney admitted to a few nerves before taking the field for the opening kickoff but quickly felt as comfortable as he has on the practice field all summer.
''It shows the kind of player I am,'' he said. ''I'll always try to be around the ball and fly around and make plays. I did a little bit of that. I missed a couple of them I wish I could have had back but that's what film is for.''
Making the night even more special was the fact that his fiancee and parents were in attendance.
Heeney is undersized for an inside linebacker at 6 feet and 230 pounds. Because of that there have been questions about whether he'd be able to get off blocks well enough to show his good speed.
Del Rio said Heeney still needs to work at that aspect of his game but that he has shown plenty of improvement since he was drafted in May.
''A couple of times I got held up, but it's just something I need to work on a little bit more,'' he said. ''For the most part, I thought I did pretty good. A couple of plays I wish I could have done a little something different.''
Heeney's best play might have come early in the second quarter when he chased quarterback Case Keenum down all the way at the sideline and forced him out of bounds for a sack. The play was even more noteworthy because Keenum tripped while trying to jump over the bench on the sideline and took a big fall.
Heeney didn't get to truly celebrate the play because he didn't realize at the time that he was credited with a sack.
''I didn't even know I had it until after the game,'' he said. ''I didn't realize it was a loss on that. It was cool. I'll take it. I didn't think it was a sack but if they're going to give it to me, I'll take it.''
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