Technically speaking Training Camps are over and the pre-season/exhibition games have begun, with Week One’s games in the books. We have to be careful how much we read into the weekly game action until the real bullets fly in September. Every coach in the League has a different way of handling these games, but the bottom line of most interest to yours truly is how new players look in pads. By new players, I mean primarily vets who have changed teams, players returning from injuries and of course Rookies. So let’s get to it.
It would seem that the player with the most interest to casual NFL observers and fans was wearing an EAGLES jersey on Sunday against the COLTS. His name is TIM TEBOW and he’s listed as No. 4 on CHIP KELLY’s QB depth chart right now. He got a rousing welcome from the fans when he took the field for most of the second half and showed pretty well. He passed for 69 yards on 5/12 passing and rolled out to make a mad dash for a running TD. He started fast, but the COLTS found that pressuring him was a solid tactic, as his ability to read the field is still a bit remedial, which causes him to hold on to the ball a bit too long most of the time. MARK SANCHEZ had a horrible start against the COLTS starting defense going 2-7. MATT BARKLEY was the most effective of the 3 EAGLES QB, but far less interesting to the fans in general than TEBOW.
ERIK TOMLINSON/TE/URFA surprised with 5 catches for 61 yards. His rep coming out of college was that he was an excellent blocker in the UTEP scheme, but not much of a receiving threat. With ZACH ERTZ nursing an injury TOMLINSON’s emergence could be quite helpful to the team, especially early on.
The COLTS rested starters quickly and the EAGLES Defense looked very solid against everyone once LUCK left the game. The EAGLES were killed last year by a serious discrepancy in Turnovers vs Takeaways at -8, ranking 26th in the League. Being +2 in this game had to be pleasing to CHIP KELLY and his staff no matter who played for the opponents. S/ED REYNOLDS (2nd yr) helped that effort with 2 second half INT.
The JETS weren’t going to be an offensive juggernaut this season even with GENO SMITH under Center. But their Offense was butt ugly under raw Rookie QB BRYCE PETTY in Detroit. RYAN FITZPATRICK was in the game so briefly I have no opinion on him yet in the JETS system. PETTY has loads of talent, including of course, a strong arm, but under pressure he’s currently a deer in the headlights.
The LIONS had to be pleased with some of their young guys. TJ JONES/WR, who missed his Rookie season to injury looked quick and elusive as a Punt Returner as well as a receiver. Rookie KYLE BRINDZA/K showed a strong and accurate leg in this game, and at the least could have some trade value in a couple of weeks if he keeps up the good work. After struggling last September with Rookie PK NATE FREESE, I don’t expect the LIONS to be inclined to cut Vet MATT PRATER in favor of BRINDZA no matter what he does in the next month. AMEER ABDULLAH/R/RB looked very explosive and elusive, and could be a very solid compliment to a healthy JOIQUE BELL come September.
Fans of the 49’ers are going to need game programs to figure out who is playing out on the field for their favorite team this season. Over a dozen players recent seasons are gone from the Niners, replaced by some talented youngsters who in many cases have been medical red-shirts in their first year or two in the League. Some of these youngsters look promising, but don’t expect miracles this year. Even though his performance was a mixed bag, including late hit penalties, SHAYNE SKOV was a force trying to replace CHRIS BORLAND at ILB.
TORREY SMITH/WR/URFA showed his deep speed on several occasions against the TEXANS but he and KAEPERNICK were unable to connect on anything in this game. With BUSH and HUNTER not playing, the Niners back-up RB group did not mount much of a threat, probably because a lack of running lanes behind a young make-shift OL group. What looked like a very good Rookie Draft Class, did not excel during this first contest. SS/JAQUISKI TARTT showed well as an in-the-box run stuffer, and BRADLEY PINION/P looked above average and shows the long range potential to make fans not miss vet ANDY LEE who was traded to Cleveland.
The TEXANS looked solid, though not special in beating down the Niners 23-10. At times they looked like an LSU-West running attack with ALFRED BLUE and KENNY HILLIARD/R getting plenty of carries in the absence of ARIAN FOSTER due to injury. All 3 Houston QB looked solid, with TOM SAVAGE being the most pleasant surprise. Clearly, SAVAGE is responding well to the coaching of QB-Whisperer HC/BILL O’BRIEN after sitting out multiple years during his transfer journey around college football. I can still see SAVAGE being the long-range QB answer for this team in years to come. SAVAGE played pretty much the entire second half and went 8/14-97 yds-1 TD.
Amidst all the Deflate Gate hoopla, the PATRIOTS actually hosted a game last Thursday night against the PACKERS. To the surprise and delight of many New England fans TOM BRADY started the game one day after his trip to NYC to appear before a federal judge in his case against the NFL. ROGER GOODELL was not seated next to ROBERT KRAFT in his Owner’s Box in Foxboro and BRADY’s appearance was brief.
Of note was the fact that the entire starting interior of the PATS OL, including while BRADY was at the helm, was made up of Rookies. TRE’ JACKSON/G/R4, SHAQ MASON/G/R4 and DAVID ANDREWS/OC/URFA played the first half as the team clearly embarks upon the rebuild of their OL inside. Injuries depleted the RB group as well, but JONAS GRAY & JAMES WHITE looked solid in their efforts. WHITE was solid as a runner and receiver in his effort to replace the versatile SHANE VEREEN.
I expect we shall also see a major shake-up in the WR reserve group this season in New England. JOSH BOYCE & AARON DOBSON, both from the 2013 Draft Class look to be on the bubble and unable to 1)stay healthy or 2)sync with MR. BRADY. As evidenced in this game newcomers BRANDON GIBSON/VFA, JONATHAN KRAUSE, and CHRIS HARPER/URFA all look to be better at running the patterns the PATS seem to favor in their Offense, and actually catching the football. Watch for this big shake-up in BRADY’s receiving corps.
JIMMY GAROPPOLO/QB had his moments in long relief of BRADY. He went 23/30 for 159 yds, 0 TD, 1 INT. Solid numbers, and likely to get better the more he plays. Best of all he looks cool and calm in the pocket, much of the time. He can move around, but seems to understand he’s best served not doing MICHAEL VICK impersonations.
The PACKERS had some issues punching it in once inside the Red Zone, but controlled the tempo and flow of the game on both sides of the ball. More than a dozen players never even made the trip to New England because of assorted aches and pains, but it did not seem to matter much out on the grass. The PACK played bend but don’t break D and kept good pressure on the QB all night long. The PACK is reshaping it’s ILB corps this year and the names of BRADFORD/RYAN/BARRINGTON/PALMER were all called on multiple occasions during game action. Much to the relief of TED THOMPSON and some of his scouts must have been the play of DL/KHYRI THORNTON, who actually made his presence felt along the line of scrimmage and in the backfield a few times after a wasted Rookie season in 2014.
As advertised by HC MIKE McCARTHY, back-up QB SCOTT TOLZIEN looks to have made solid strides in his effort to be an NFL caliber back-up QB. TOLZIEN went 10/16 for 107 yards and 1 TD, with 0 INT. To the surprise of some Rookie BRETT HUNDLEY mopped things up as the 3rd and final QB of the night, despite solid Camp work by MATT BLANCHARD.
The BRONCOS raveled to Seattle to open their pre-season and came out with a tight 22-20 victory. The biggest news for the BRONCOS had to be the work of QB/BROCK OSWEILER who has been groomed for 3 seasons to eventually replace MR. PEYTON as the team’s starter. That change could come as soon as the 2016 season. Despite working behind a young, make-shift OL OSWEILER was 15/20- 151 yds- 1 TD. He guided the team on 5 first half possessions and they scored on every one of them, albeit 4 via Field Goals. He looked cool under pressure and mobile escaping pressure.
Rookies highlighted the SEA HAWKS effort. TYLER LOCKETT was absolutely monster in the return game all night. He returned 1 punt for 18 yards, and 4 kick-offs for an average of 46 yards per return. His highlight effort was a 103 yard kick-off return for a TD.
A highlight of that return was a penalty flag on HC PETE CARROLL, who got in the way of the sideline official and was sent ass-over-tea-kettle back into the bench. Luckily nothing more than his ego was hurt, and the TD held up.
FRANK CLARK/DE/Rookie showed the ability to bring pass-rush pressure all game long. He was explosive and showed good strength in his arms and hands to push blockers aside.
The biggest issue for the Sea Hawks appeared to be the inability of the OL to contain the BRONCOS front 7. OL Coach TOM CABLE is counted on annually to develop average players into a cohesive effective blocking group so that the team can spend money and draft picks at other positions on the roster. He may have his work cut out for him again this year with the departure of starters MAX UNGER/C & JAMES CARPENTER/G via VFA.
The JAGUARS won their home opening pre-season tilt over the STEELERS 23-21. As usual the STEELERS under MIKE TOMLIN paid very little attention to the final scoreboard in the pre-season. BIG BEN led the team on an opening drive score and then spent the rest of the night on the sidelines with head phones. LANDRY JONES had a decent night completing 24/46 for 200 yards and 1 TD. Meanwhile the biggest task for the Steelers seems to be reshaping the Defense under new DC KEITH BUTLER. The secondary is a major work in progress, but at least the team is trying to rebuild with the help 3 drafted Rookies and CB/BRANDON BOYKIN just acquired in a trade. Remember STEELERS fixtures TORY POLAMALU/S & IKE THOMAS/CB both have to be replaced. First Round PIck BUD DUPREE is flashing while learning to play upright as a full-time OLB in the 3-4 base scheme. Surprisingly to many, this STEELERS team may have to win with Offense by outscoring most opponents.
BLAKE BORTLES already looks like a new man in his second year as a pro QB. He’s more relaxed in the pocket and looking more assured as he reads through his progressions with his talented young corps of receivers. Even with his patience in the pocket BORTLES took off to score a running TD just before leaving the game. One could not help but notice some major similarities in appearance and playing style between BORTLES and BIG BEN, which clearly bodes well for the JAGS. TOBY GERHART/RB, who pronounced himself fully healthy when Camp opened looked faster and more powerful than last year, as he stood out both running and receiving, primarily in the 1st Quarter. On the bad news front VFA/JULIUS THOMAS/TE suffered a finger/hand injury and may be out of action into September.
A real standout defensively for the JAGS was Rookie DL/MICHAEL BENNETT who somehow fell to the JAGS in Round 6 despite a stellar senior campaign for the National Champion Buckeyes. He looked strong and quick and shot through gaps to disrupt behind the line of scrimmage on multiple occasions. VFA acquisition DAVON HOUSE/CB showed well in deep pass coverage using the press cover skills he honed in Green Bay, when not injured.
That’s it for today. I have more game film to watch and notes to go through, but will be back Tuesday with more observations from Week 1 of the Pre-Season.