Just a Quick Review

Reviewing what was encouraging and what questions remain after the Patriots second preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday, August 19th.

Encouraging Signs…

-How can I not begin with the return of Wes Welker?  The man has just returned to action in the National Football League just seven and ½ months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL.  Extraordinary.  I was encouraged to see how Brady tried to incorporate Welker into the offense immediately.  The first play of the game was a holding penalty, but the next three plays were directed at Welker.  Granted, two catches for 20 yards doesn’t look huge in the box score, but the simple fact that he is healthy enough to even be on the feel is a great sign for the season to come.  Forget about trying to develop young kids to fill in during Welker’s absence.  We are now developing these young receivers to compliment Welker and Randy Moss.

-Big ‘ol Ron Brace finally got his oversized ass onto the field.  It only took him a little more than two weeks to pass the team’s conditioning test (pathetic, I know).  But, he saw his first day of practice a week ago today (the Monday before the Thursday preseason game), and then finally got some game action in the game Thursday night.  Brace played decently, piling up 3 tackles and one forced fumble.  But, what was most encouraging was not his actually performance, but just his presence on the field.  The Patriots are thin at the defensive end position, still trying to fill in from the losses of Richard Seymour and Jarvis Green.  Newcomer Gerard Warren will likely start on one side with Mike Wright across the way, but behind those two there is little depth.  If Brace can catch up quickly through practice then he may have a shot to contribute to this defense in 2010.

-For the second game in a row the Patriots ran the ball with a good amount of success.  In the first game against the Saints, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Laurence Maroney led the charge as the team compiled 125 yards on 35 carries, topped off by 3 rushing touchdowns.  On Thursday Fred Taylor and Sammy Morris got the bulk of the work as the team compiled 120 yards on 30 carries, topped off by 2 rushing touchdowns.  Belichick’s emphasis on the run game is something that I have been calling for since 2006 when the Pats made Maroney a first round pick.  The real question is whether or not this trend will continue into the regular season?

-Earlier this summer I predicted that rookie cornerback Devin McCourty’s biggest area of impact would be on special teams, especially in the return game.  I am certainly excited to say that I may have been wrong.  For the second week in a row, McCourty has started opposite Darius Butler and has impressed in both outings.  We knew that he was fast, but his level of physicality was something that I just wasn’t expecting.  Compile that with his exceptional closing speed and we may be looking at a rookie cornerback that will make a huge impact this season in nickel packages (assuming Darius Butler and Leigh Bodden will win that starting spots).

-Man, do I love Brandon Spikes.  This kid was born to play as a 3-4 inside linebacker.  He is tall, strong, has the ability to shed blocks, can fill holes, blitz is he has to, and can even run sideline to sideline.  Spikes and Mayo, within a season or two, could comprise the best inside linebacker tandem in the NFL, they both have that kind of talent.  I’ve repeatedly knocked Belichick for his inconsistency in terms of success with high draft picks (see Bethel Johnson, Chad Jackson, Adrian Klemm, etc.), but, so far at least, it seems like Bill got it right in 2010.

-Zoltan Mesko can kick the hell out of the ball.

Remaining Questions…

-The offensive line still scares the hell out of me.  Yes, the Patriots had pretty good success running that ball the past two weeks and the line has done a decent job of protecting the quarterbacks (although Hoyer takes some mean shots).  But, there is no way in hell that I feel good about this o-line going against the Jets, Ravens, Steelers, Chargers, Dolphins…damn just about anybody!  I’ve pretty much given up on Mankins at this point, but I really think that a move needs to be made to sure up the middle of that line.  (JUST HEARD ON WEEI WITHIN THE LAST 30 SECONDS THAT NICK KACZUR IS OUT FOR THE SEASON BECAUSE OF BACK SURGERY).

-Although the running game has put up some good numbers over the past few weeks, I would still like to see coach Belichick define roles within the running back group a bit better.  At this point there are four possible starters for the 2010 NFL season at running back, Laurence Maroney, Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris, or BenJarvus Green-Ellis.  I don’t know whether Maroney is going to put up 1,000 yards or is going to get cut.  I don’t know what the hell is going on anymore!  It has to be frustrating as a player to not know whether you are going to carry the ball 30 times or sit the entire game.

-I really hope that Brandon Tate lives up to the hype that has been surrounding him this training camp.  If Tate plays the way that he has supposedly been playing throughout camp then the Pats will have five or six viable options to catch passes (Moss, Welker, Edelman, Hernandez, Gronkowski, and Tate).  If Tate’s talents fail to translate onto the field then that split end receiver position opposite of Moss will be a dead zone for the third consecutive season.

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