by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff
For those of you hungry for some football, help has arrived. Though not a full meal, Thursday night’s scrimmage against Jacksonville should give us a taste of the real thing.
So much to consider going into the team’s first live action of the season. Our main points to ponder…
Four-Front At The Forefront: Has Coach Bill Belichick really made the decision to play more traditional four-man defensive fronts in place of his old, reliable 3-4? If so, the demand for tackles increases while the need for bigger outside linebackers subsides.
Good news for linemen Mike Wright and Myron Pryor. Potential good news for Ron Brace, who played a 4-3 at Boston College. Thursday’s tilt will also give us a peek at new Pats Mark Anderson, a pass-rushing D-lineman, and Andre Carter, a 10-year vet. It looks like we’ll have to wait to see whether Shaun Ellis, a former Jet who has finally seen the light, can contribute, as Ellis will probably sit this one out.
You diehards should tune in to the fourth quarter to see who of the young DEs gets playing time, including sixth-rounder Markell Carter (number 49) and undrafted rookie free agents Clay Nurse (61), Alex Silvestro (69), Aaron Lavarias (60) and Landon Jingleheimer (doesn’t exist – just wanted to see if you were paying attention).
Wait ’Til We Get Our Haynesworth On You: In lieu of missed practices, exactly when will defensive tackle/career malcontent Albert Haynesworth play? It must take a massive effort to lug that monolithic body around (he’s listed at 330 pounds and looks like a Jeep with shoulder pads).
We know Haynesworth can play at a top level; we only wonder how often. Regarding the tackle’s effort: like pancake batter, consistency will be key.
Actually, It’s Ochenta Y Cinco: During training camp, the cheerfully misnamed receiver Chad Ochocinco (number 85 on your program) has let more balls hit the ground than a pack of bulldogs. Look for Tom Brady to seek out Ochocinco early and get him into the flow of the offense.
At The Route Of The Issue: We’ve got Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Ochocinco. We assume Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate come next, but those special teams standouts have to prove they can do something with the ball besides return it. And how much did Taylor Price benefit from a rookie year spent wandering the sidelines? Can he translate reportedly solid preseason practices into game-time production?
Watch for undrafted rookie Jeremy Ross on returns. Could be a sleeper.
Dropping A Big Third On The Field: The team with the NFL’s worst third-down defense returns. Can they synchronize a decent pass rush with solid downfield coverage? Will this year’s defense continue to have fans hoping for a third-and-two (run defense) rather than a third-and-eight (pass defense)?
Jacksonville was ranked 27th in the league last year throwing the ball, averaging 192 yards per game. Call this an exhibition of pass defense on training wheels: if it looks shaky this week, that’s not a great sign for the future.
Prove Themselves Youthful: Of the 90 players currently on New England’s roster, over 50 have less than three years of NFL experience. While youngsters like Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes and Patrick Chung have contributed, others like Price and Darius Butler have to prove they belong. Belichick has some talent to sort through – the key will be finding the right combination for the final 53.
Look for this year’s contender for the Randall Gay Award, i.e. the undrafted rookie free agent who turns some heads. With a 4-3 defense, we were looking at one of the D-ends, but the signings of Anderson and Ellis have tempered that thinking.
Use That Mallett: Speaking of rookies, the preseason affords the best chance to watch cubs like Ryan Mallett at play. How well can the former Arkansas Razorback read a pro defense? We know he can throw long, but do his short passes have the Tom Brady Touch or the Drew Bledsoe Bludgeon? Are we looking at the starting Pats QB for 2015?
You know what? Enough talk. Let’s feast on some football.
Any other concerns, points of interest, or yummy salad recipes, please comment below.
You can email Chris Warner at email@example.com