OXNARD, Calif. – What a difference a game can make.
That's something all NFL teams are aware of, and that's why the preseason games exist. Sure, practice evaluation is important, but if a player tends to show up more when the pads and lights come, obviously it tends to weigh a little stronger.
And that's how a guy like Ahmad Dixon can enter last week's preseason opener as a seventh-round long shot just hoping to find a spot on the 53-man roster. About four quarters of preseason football later and Dixon now finds himself working more with the first- and second-team units at the safety position.
Now, it's a stretch to say Dixon has already locked up a spot on this 2014 roster. But he sure did help his cause in a major way with an impressive debut against the Chargers on Thursday night in San Diego. For the two weeks of camp before then, Dixon had yet to stand out much in team or individual drills. But with extended playing time because of Barry Church, Jakar Hamilton and Matt Johnson all being held out, Dixon played the majority of the game.
Not only did he play, but Dixon jumped off the tape – and stat sheet – recording a game-high 12 tackles. Garrett said the rookie safety was one of only a few players on the entire team playing with that much energy.
"He played a lot of snaps, both on defense and in the kicking game," Garrett said of Dixon. "He was the guy maybe as much as anybody on our football team that played consistently well and did a lot of positive, positive things, impacted the game. He was a good example for a lot of the other guys as to what we're looking for, and for him to do that in Week 1 of his rookie year, it was impressive."
And most of the stops were able to show off his physical prowess that made him such a productive player at Baylor.
"Absolutely, and the game needs to be physical," Garrett said. "For him to show up as much as he did and as well as he did – he was fast, he was decisive, he was physical, he knocked them back. He made the plays that he should have made and he made some other ones, so it was an impressive debut for him."
However, the physical nature of the game might have gotten the best of Dixon, who had to leave in the fourth quarter after taking a shot to the head. Dixon was evaluated for a concussion and has been held out of practices over the weekend, although he did participate in the walk-throughs.
While he hasn't been cleared to fully return to practice, Dixon hasn't been granted media access either. But immediately after the game, he said he felt just "dinged up" and didn't expect to miss much time, if any. Dixon also reiterated he won't change his style when he gets cleared for action.
"If they feel it's best for me to miss a couple of (practices), I'll do that," Dixon said on Thursday. "But whenever I come back, I'm going to be the same player … it's not going to change the way I play."
One of five seventh-round picks, Dixon finds himself in the middle of a crowded, yet young group of safeties. Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox have received most of the first-team reps during this camp, but Dixon did get a few looks with the first-team unit on Saturday following his standout game in San Diego.
But it's too early for him to fully compete with Wilcox for a starting spot. Dixon will likely work himself into the backup spots with Jeff Heath and Hamilton, who returned to practice Sunday after missing more than a week with a concussion.