If Chiefs outside linebacker Andy Studebakers first opening-day start is as productive as his very first NFL start, hell be in for a pretty good day.
By RANDY COVITZ
The Kansas City Star
Studebaker will be making his eighth career start on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons in place of Pro Bowl weak-side linebacker Tamba Hali, who is serving a one-game suspension for violating the NFLs substance-abuse policy.
In 2009, Studebaker filled in for Mike Vrabel at strong-side linebacker and intercepted two passes against Pittsburghs Ben Roethlisberger, returning one 94 yards in a 27-24 victory over the Steelers.
You dont know how opportunities are going to come, said Studebaker, mostly a special-teams standout during his four years with the Chiefs. You just dont know as a backup what your role is going to be, and how its going to come.
But you have to be prepared. When you prepare hard, you practice hard, as if your opportunity is coming, youll be able to help the team.
In the opener, Studebakers main responsibility will be rushing Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, not intercepting his passes. Hali ranked second in the AFC with 12 sacks last season and has 53 1/2 sacks in his six-year career, including 26 1/2 in the last two seasons. Studebaker has 2 1/2 career sacks since the Chiefs plucked him off the Philadelphia practice squad midway through the 2008 season.
You cant go in there trying to be someone youre not, Studebaker said. For me, Im going to know my job, Im going to play as hard as I can. As a defense, were going to play hard, were going to know what were doing, were going to communicate effectively and put ourselves in a position to have a good chance (to win).
Studebaker, 6 feet 3 and 248 pounds, has beaten long odds to get this far. He was not recruited out of Eureka High School, a small school in central Illinois, and followed his brother, Dan to Wheaton College, an NCAA Division III program in Illinois. Andy played defensive end, while Dan played next to him at tackle, and Wheaton was annually a top-10 Division III team only to run into perennial power Mount Union (Ohio) in the playoffs.
Andy Studebaker dominated the small college competition, receiving Division III All-America honors, and the Eagles selected him in the sixth round of the 2008 draft.
Not a lot of guys from where I come from get the opportunities I have, so Im grateful, he said.
I went to a school with people I respected and wanted to be like and decided Id get a great education and play some high-level Division III football, and doors opened up.
I wasnt playing football in college so I could play in the NFL; I was playing for today. Thats the attitude I try to carry in the NFL now. I dont play for six weeks down the road or two years down the road. Thats served me well so far, and here we are five years later. Its always fun to be able to represent guys and my school. I get to be the flag-bearer of Division III, and its fun to say Im from there. Anybody can get found as long as youre ready to put in a good days work, and give it your all, theyll find you.
When Hali returns next week, Studebaker will return to his role as a backup and special-teams player. Having come from humble beginnings as a player, he understands the vagaries of life in the NFL.
I got drafted, but I got cut (by Philadelphia), he said. I know what it is to be cut, I know what it is to be at the bottom of the roster. Experiences like that shape your character, they shape who you are and they shape how you approach practice and game days and opening weeks like this, where the team is asking you to step up.
Chiefs coach Romeo Crennel probably will rotate Edgar Jones and Cameron Sheffield in some pass-rushing situations on Sunday, but he believes Studebaker has the makeup to handle his role against an Atlanta team that surrendered 26 sacks and 84 quarterback hits last season.
Andys a very smart player, Crennel said. Hes a very conscientious player. He studies the game plan, he works hard, and given the opportunity, he goes in and plays and produces. All of those things are valuable to us, and valuable to him because that allows him to stay on the team a Division III guy coming in and making a pro football team is a pretty good thing.
Oh, and about that name, Studebaker. Yes, he is a descendant of the family that produced the unique Studebaker cars in the halcyon days of the automobile industry.
Theres a big family book, and Im in the book, Studebaker said. Part of the heritage of our family was related. Im not sure how high up it goes. There were five brothers who moved to the United States and started making wagons for the westward expansion.
They started making cars, and as the family grew, I dont know exactly where I fit into that my dad had a Studebaker when he was a kid. Ive never owned one. Im a close enough relation to be in the book, but far enough that they never sent me any checks.
Hell earn his check on Sunday.
To reach Randy Covitz, call 816-234-4796 or send email to email@example.com. Follow him at twitter.com/randycovitz.