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Football was back with a bang last week as preseason games gave fans their first glimpses of NFL action since the Super Bowl. Although preseason games are not the most reliable evaluator of teams, they can offer a revealing insight into player development and position battles. Here’s what we learned from the busy opening week of the NFL preseason.
The Baltimore Ravens receiver situation seems to remain in a state of flux beyond Torrey Smith on the depth chart, with the likes of Jacoby Jones, Tandon Doss and Deonte Thompson all failing to distinguish themselves from the crowd. Third-year receiver LaQuan Williams did, however, have a good game, and a repeat of that performance in his next game could see him catapult himself into contention for the number three receiver position.
Both Michael Vick and Nick Foles impressed during their time on the field in the Philadelphia Eagles’ loss to the New England Patriots, but Vick looks to be pipping Foles for the starting job, with his added mobility and ability to throw on the run looking well suited to Chip Kelly’s offense. Rookie Matt Barkley also looked fluent during his snaps, but didn’t show enough to oust either Vick or Foles in the depth chart above him.
Cordarrelle Patterson took a big step towards beating out Jerome Simpson for the number two receiver spot with the Minnesota Vikings, outshining the veteran in his NFL debut. Not only was he a valuable target in the passing game, Patterson also showed his skills with a 50-yard kickoff return, and could form a threatening tandem with Greg Jennings if he can maintain this form throughout preseason.
New York Jets’ fans hoping for Geno Smith to be named their teams’ new starting quarterback may have a wait on their hands, as Mark Sanchez, despite throwing an early interception, arguably outplayed the young quarterback, who left the field early with an ankle injury. Smith should be back for their next preseason game, but will have to do better if he is to oust Sanchez before the regular season begins. Commiserations must go out to Greg McElroy, who outplayed both Smith and Sanchez during his outing with the third stringers, but will continue to be a spectator in terms of the race for the starter’s role.
Defensive back Tyrann Mathieu maintained his form from training camp, and continues to show he has the talent to be an NFL star, although it remains to be seen whether his off-field issues have been resolved, or if they could yet come back to haunt him. If he can keep himself out of trouble, the Arizona Cardinals have the foundations for a very dynamic secondary, pairing Mathieu with his former LSU teammate, Patrick Peterson.
Damontre Moore had New York Giants fans applauding as he put in a lively performance in his NFL debut, which included a blocked punt, and he was able to make his way into the backfield on more than one occasion. With Osi Umenyiora having departed for the Atlanta Falcons, Moore could see significant snaps come the regular season, supporting the likes of Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck.
Another rookie who put down a strong claim for a starters’ role was Jarvis Jones of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The former Georgia linebacker had a solid performance, but a number of penalties from Jason Worilds, his biggest competition for an outside linebacker spot, could well have increased Jones’ stock in head coach Mike Tomlin’s eyes.
Second year receiver T. Y. Hilton took big strides towards cementing the number two receiver spot with the Indianapolis Colts, as he had a 45-yard reception for a touchdown, using his speed to blow past the covering cornerback. New arrival Darrius Heyward-Bey should prove to be Hilton’s biggest competition, but the former Oakland Raider was unable to have a similar impact in his first game in a Colts’ uniform.
Many people criticized the Buffalo Bills for taking Kiko Alonso in the second round of the 2013 NFL Draft, suggesting they ‘reached’ with the 46th overall pick, but his debut performance for the Bills suggested otherwise. Alonso showed great speed and ability to drop back in coverage, but was also able to come up to the line of scrimmage and pressure the quarterback on more than one occasion. It’s hard not to see him starting come week one of the regular season.
Photo Courtesy of Harry How/Getty Images