A look at who impressed and who disappointed during last night's preseason opener
LeGarrette Blount/Stevan Ridley
Needless to say, when you rush for over 200 yards and 8 yards per carry as a team, the running backs are doing their job. Ridley got things started with the first unit, ripping off a 62 yarder on the first play from scrimage. The presumed starter finished with 92 yards on only 8 carries and flashed the same power and explosiveness that helped him break out with 1,000 yards last year. Blount got the first chance to spell Ridley in the team's power back rotation and took full advantage. His improvised 51 yard touchdown was the highlight of the night, but Blount ran hard and showed surprising agility all night en route to 101 yards and 2 touchdowns on his 11 carries.
It almost seems silly to write Brady up here, as a column like this is generally focused on the question marks of the roster, but it's impossible to ignore just how sharp Brady looked. In 16 snaps, the Brady-lead offense produced 14 points, with Brady going 7-8 for 65 yards and a perfect touchdown to Shane Vereen. His only incompletion was a throwaway due to pressure. All this with a completely new cast of receivers, including 4 rookies. Appreciate this while we still have it, folks; we wont see quarterback play like this for a long time once #12 hangs 'em up.
As an undrafted rookie, Thompkins started his first game and looked like he belonged with the ones, catching 4 passes for 23 yards during Brady's second drive. The yardage total is low, but that's mostly due Brady giving Thompkins some quick hitting looks early. Thompkins looks adepts at winning battles and beating press coverage at the line and flashed reliable hands in making several contested catches. It certainly speaks volumes for his performance that Brady would target him that much in his limited time on the field.
The big tight end got some time with the ones, playing in the multiple tight end formations that sprung Ridley for big gains early in the game. He later flashed his receiving ability, making a solid run after the catch for a 22 yard gain from Mallett, and also likely impressed the coaching staff with his hustle to get the last downfield block on Blount's 51 yard touchdown. Real solid showing from the rookie.
The third undrafted rookie to make this portion of the column, Benard built on the momentum from a solid camp with a productive outing against the Eagles. He showed his versatility lining up all over the defensive line, including some nice work as an undersized interior rusher on passing downs, and wound up with 5 tackles and a sack. He's building a solid case to make this team and possibly contribute as a sub rusher as a rookie.
The rookie safety from Rutgers got a lot of playing time and looked solid out there. He didn't do anything particularly flashy, but he didn't appear to be out of position, kept everything in front of him and stepped up with solid hitting whenever the ball was thrown in his area. I've written in the past about my concerns for the secondary and their depth: the emergence of another solid, fundamentally sound guy in the mix can only help this team.
Rookie receiver makes a nice grab from Brady for 23 yards early, but had some mistakes later in the game. He later dropped an easy one from Mallett that should have produced a first down. He also allowed Eagle cornerbacks to get good position on him, shielding him from having any chance at two shots downfield (one in the end zone). You can see the obvious potential from Dobson, but would like to see more than 2 catches on 8 targets.
If I was grading Mallett's performance, I'd give it an "incomplete." Not just because Mallett was knocked out of the game earlier than expected after taking a hard shot, but mostly because it's difficult to evaluate quarterback play when the offensive line can't give him any time to throw. The starting offensive line departed with Brady, leaving Mallett with a motley crue of roster upstarts (with Marcus Canon, Tyrone Greene, Dan Connolly and Markus Zucevics all out, the team's line depth was severely limited). Mallett's 9/18 statline is misleading, as several of those incompletions came on busted plays where pressure came almost instantaneously. He was also the victim of several drops, including bad ones from Dobson and Shane Vereen. That's not to say Mallett was perfect, as there were a few throws he'd like to have back (throwing behind Dobson on a slant, just overshooting an open Josh Boyce in the end zone), but Mallett wasn't nearly as bad as his statline suggests.
Once Mallett came out, it was Tebow time. And Tebow did, well, about what you'd expect from him. There were some ugly missed throws and the severe lack of pocket presence (which lead to him taking all three of the Eagles sacks). However, there was some good as well. The Pats adjusted to a simplified, read-action attack with Tebow in, and the Jesusback did get an impressive 31 yards on his four runs. Tebow also used his feet a few times to extend the play and find receivers down the field. He also has one more touchdown drive as a Patriot as he did last year during his time as a Jet (if that's not enough Jet-related comedy for you, Mark Sanchez threw a pick six to a defensive lineman during his first possession of the preseason last night). Watching him, it's unbelievable that he was picked in the first round (nice one, Josh), but if you remove the expectations of being a starting, pocket passer, there are things Tebow can bring to a team.
Probably should've had safety help on Mike Vick's 47 yard bomb to DeSean Jackson, but Talib's role is to be a number one corner who takes care of other team's best receivers. Jackson reportedly beat Talib throughout the joint practice sessions during the week, and promptly beat him deep for a touchdown when the play turned live. I have confidence that Talib will bounce back and play well next week against his former team, but there's no way he's happy with his performance Friday night.
Wilson has had a poor camp and continued that negative momentum with an awful showing last night. He badly missed tackles on two Eagle touchdowns, making no attempt to wrap up on a Bryce Brown run up the middle and later just whiffing on former teammate Greg Salas. Unlike Duron Harmon, who seems to be trending the opposite way, Wilson looked out of place in the secondary, looking poor in coverage. If it weren't for his status as a second round pick last year, Wilson would be in serious jeopardy of losing his job.
Gostkowksi is safe; there are no other kickers on the roster, but he needs to do better than 1/3 on field goals. His miss from 55 yards was excusable, as that's generally out of his range. However, his 44 yard miss was just bad. You have to be able to rely on your kicker to consistently make those. Here's hoping Gostkowski figures it out quickly.
Just a bad all-around night for Bolden. Not only is his main competition for a roster spot, LeGarrette Blount, clearly ahead of him on the depth chart, but Blount exploded for 100 yards and was one of the most impressive players on the field. Bolden, for his part, only gained 14 yards on his four carries (3.5 yards a carry) and had a dumb running into the kicker penalty on special teams that gifted the Eagles an extra three downs.