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Alumni Greg Van Roten recently played against his old team, the Carolina Panthers, as a New York Jet in Week 1 of the NFL regular season. (Photo from Melissa Melvin-Rodriguez/Panthers)

Football is officially back, and so are the former Quakers who play in the NFL. Let’s check in on Penn alumni Greg Van Roten, Justin Watson, Brandon Copeland, and Kevin Stefanski, and see how their season debuts went.

Greg Van Roten - Guard, New York Jets

Van Roten and the Jets opened up the season with a 19-14 loss in Charlotte against the Carolina Panthers and former Gang Green quarterback Sam Darnold. Protecting the right side for rookie signal caller Zach Wilson, Van Roten played all 65 offensive snaps the Jets had, but he and the rest of the line struggled to protect Wilson, who was sacked six times in his debut. While Van Roten himself did not allow a single sack, he did mention that the Jet’s offensive line is “short of where [they] want to be,” and must improve their performance over the next few weeks, especially with the injury of New York's star left tackle Mekhi Becton.

Justin Watson - Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Watson has had an unfortunate start to the 2021 season, as a knee procedure that he underwent in late July during training camp left him on the physically unable-to-perform list, and he will likely not be cleared for return until early December. Watson's team, however, began its Super Bowl defense with a 31-29 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in a thrilling Thursday night contest.

Brandon Copeland - Linebacker, Atlanta Falcons

After leaving the New England Patriots after last season, Copeland, who served as captain of the Quakers’ 2012 Ivy League title-winning team, returned to Penn to co-teach a financial literacy course, and he signed a one-year deal with the Atlanta Falcons in the offseason. 

Copeland was released on Saturday, a day before the Falcon’s 26-point loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, but he was re-signed on Monday. By this maneuver, the Falcons were able to avoid guaranteeing his salary for the entire season, as he was not on the roster during the Week 1 matchup, but instead will make his salary week-to-week this season.

Copeland, who only played six games last season before going on injured reserve, will look to make a bigger impact this fall. 

Kevin Stefanski - Head Coach, Cleveland Browns

Stefanski and the Browns began their 2021 campaign at Arrowhead Stadium against the reigning AFC champions, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Browns, whom many expect to be Super Bowl contenders this season, following their strong performance last year, were up to the challenge. Stefanski’s creative and strategic play calling, along with the steadily dominant rushing attack of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt and the accurate and timely passing of Baker Mayfield, allowed the Browns to jump ahead of the Chiefs early. Heading into halftime, Cleveland had a 22-10 lead. 

Despite their first-half success, the Browns were unable to get into a second-half rhythm, and costly mistakes, including a fumble by Chubb and a botched punt, allowed Patrick Mahomes and his lightning-quick offense to take a 33-29 lead. 

With just under three minutes left, the Browns had one final chance to win it, but Mayfield’s unfortunate interception — in which he tried to throw the ball out of bounds while falling down —gave the Chiefs the Week 1 win. The Browns will try to bounce back against the Texans in Cleveland this Sunday.