INDIANAPOLIS – Oakland Raiders linebacker Ben Heeney saved the best of his rookie season for Weeks 13-17 the past season.
Heeney, who played collegiately at Kansas, totaled 249 snaps on defense down the stretch after playing on 58 snaps in Weeks 1-12.
And what Heeney did with the playing time left an impression on Raiders coach Jack Del Rio.
“I thought Ben did a real nice job with his opportunities late in the season, came in the nickel package and played well for us,” Del Rio said Wednesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “As he played well, he got more opportunities and continued to play well, so I’m pleased with him, pleased with the year he had.”
Oakland’s head coach also expects more out of the former Jayhawk star in 2016.
“One of these young guys (I’m) looking forward to getting into Year Two,” Del Rio said.
Heeney, a native of Hutchinson, Kan., could choose to soak in Del Rio’s confidence and praise.
But Heeney leaned to a team approach when reached by telephone on the biggest lesson learned during his rookie season on a Raiders team that finished 7-9.
“Biggest takeaway is that we can compete with anyone in the league,” Heeney said, “and we should be in playoff contention next year, no doubt.”
The 6-0, 231-pound Heeney finished the 2015 season appearing in 15 games with three starts, totaling 33 tackles (27 solo), 2 ½ sacks, a pass defensed and a forced fumble.
In addition to his 307 total snaps on defense, he was a steady producer on special teams, where he totaled 242 snaps, which ranked as the sixth-most special teams snaps on the team.
The Raiders are likely to lean on him more in his second professional season, and Heeney has two goals in mind to prepare and build on the past season.
“I just need to get bigger and stronger,” Heeney said.