Letter From Camp, Part 2
As always with Training Camp and preseason fauxball, these are only impressions, not conclusions. Ask anyone who spent 85 bucks on a Michael Bishop jersey like the two dozen people I saw at practice in 2001 about the dangers of getting too aroused about guys based on August football:
*I don’t know what more anyone can ask of the first team offense. In four drives against the Ones of two different teams, it’s been close to perfect. So far it’s the best reboot since JJ Abrams’ Star Treks. We can only hope the new Star Wars goes half as well.
*Friday night, Tim Tebow made history by uncorking the worst pass ever thrown by humankind. And I’m not talking about the interception that sailed four feet over his intended target. The next pass was a rollout left that came out of his hand sideways. I kid you not. It was like a Nerf ball you throw at the beach without squeezing the water out. This from a guy who completed 2/3 of his passes in the friggin’ SEC. I’m starting to consider my brother Jack’s theory that he’s so bad right now that it’s mental. Like maybe he’s got the yips. That he’s losing it the way Chuck Knoblauch lost the ability to throw to first or Ian Baker Finch couldn’t hole a tap in putt. It’s scary to consider, but it makes sense.
*But for now I’m sticking with my theory: Has anyone considered that maybe Tebow is really a natural righty? They should have him start signing with his right hand and if his penmanship is perfect then I might be onto something.
*The wide receiver corps is a horse race at this point, with Danny Amendola as the decisive, Secretariatesque runaway No. 1. At the moment, it seems like Kenbrell Thompkins has passed Aaron Dobson for the Place and Show. They’ve both had peaks and valleys, but Thompkins was targeted more against Tampa so he has the edge. Not bad for an undrafted rookie who:
1) Is older than Aaron Hernandez and
2) Was arrested 7 more times than Ahern. Before he left high school.
*To generalize, Thompkins gets better separation than Dobson, whereas Dobson uses his body better to get position. He’s a former hoop player and you can see it when he fights for the ball.
*Consider what the Pats gave up to get four skill position guys who have played big roles. To get Amendola, Thompkins, Zach Sudfeld and LeGarrette Blount cost them: $10 million guaranteed, nothing, nothing, and a kick returner who’s off winning track ribbons instead of returning kicks. It’s early, but they could end up being like those stories you read about a guy who finds a Picasso at a yard sale or something.
*It seems to me the defense is playing a more aggressive scheme than usual. Typically at this time of year, they play a soft shell that’s not even vanilla, it’s the flavor of water. But they look more now like they did toward the end of last year. Brandon Spikes and Dont’a Hightower running downhill, attacking the line and occupying blockers. It’s what helped free up Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones for their sacks.
*Granted it’s not always pretty. That 12 yard TD they gave up was the rare Cover-0 for them where Marquise Cole and Logan Ryan were both on their men, then released Kevin Ogletree to… nobody. Another time Hightower run blitzed at the snap, drove the guard into the backfield, but the Mike James ran to the vacated hole for a big gain. Still, I’ll take the occasional error of aggressiveness over sitting back and getting picked apart by the Ryan Fitzpatrick’s of the world any day.
*Still, I’ll take how well Ryan has played. That Pick-6 was textbook technique, jamming his receiver at the line, keeping his eyes in the backfield and jumping the route. In fact, both Rutgers rookie DB’s have come on lately. Ryan has taken advantage of an (see if this sounds familiar) injury to Ras-IR Dowling to get a lot of reps, and Duron Harmon seems to have passed Tavon Wilson on the safety depth chart.
*Wilson was a huge draft day reach that doesn’t look to be paying off. I was watching that draft with a dozen or so hardcore Pats draft geeks and there wasn’t one among us who’d ever heard of him. And for at least a month I kept thinking he was the guy George Zimmerman killed. Two years is too soon to declare him “a bust,” but I suggest he not sign any long term leases right now.
*Cole is very good on all four Special Teams. But he has never successfully defended a pass in his Patriots career.
*Shane Vereen looks like exactly what we hoped he’d be: Like the genetically engineered hybrid of Kevin Faulk and Danny Woodhead.
*Every year it seems like the Pats sacrifice depth at one position to beef up at others. For instance, last year the wideouts were paper thin while they sent a human wave of defensive backs onto the field. This year, they’re rolling the dice along the D-line. Behind Wilfork and Tommy Kelley, there’s almost nothing. Marcus Forston hasn’t shown much. Joe Vellano seems like just a body with the name of a Plumbing & Heating contractor. Marcus Benard has shown flashes on outside rush and could contribute in that 2011 Mark Anderson role. But at 260lbs, he gets swallowed up on the inside where he got most of his reps Friday.
*Obviously if Armond Armstead bounces back from his infection, it could change everything. Until then, I’m going to keep blaming his infection on his irresponsible, late night drunken nightclub shananigans like all the medical experts/ anti-Patriots jihadists did with Gronk.
*You might not see a better catch by an NFL tight end all year than the one Sudfeld made. I’m calling on Dave to get the design team at the Barstool T-shirt World Headquarters to get going on a “Studfeld” shirt. Maybe looking like the Seinfeld logo? You heard it here first.
*It’s good to see Jake Ballard taking more snaps because people were talking about him like he was limping around like Samuel L Jackson in “Unbreakable.” And maybe he’s not as agile right now as Studfeld, but he’s been crushing people in the run game. He had 15+ YPC with the Giants in 2011 so when healthy he can be a force. But if nothing else now, he’s giving them that Alge Crumplery road grader blocking end.
*Jamie Collins is all over place. Dropping into coverage deep, playing the curl/flat, attacking holes, blitzing. He’s got to learn to finish, God knows. Against Philly he had a wide open shot at Nick Foles and whiffed. But he’s got abilities you can’t teach.
*Ryan Mallett is exactly the kind of mixed bag you expect from a 3rd year backup. He’s not real accurate, so passes he’s trying to keep low hit guys in the Nike Swoosh. But don’t sleep on his arm strength, he’s better moving in the pocket than we were led to believe, and so far so good on his ability to make protection calls and communicate with his receivers. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not good at this point. But compared to Matt Cassel at the same point in his career, he’s Bart Starr. In Year 3 Cassel didn’t look like he could handle the Football Toss game at a Dave & Buster’s.
*There was never any reason to think much of Will Svitek, but Dante Scarnecchia has him coached up to play right guard and left tackle, something like 20 people in the world are capable of doing. I think I’m mostly intrigued by the guy because I read when he was little, his family escaped Communist Chekoslovakia on foot, hiking through the mountains. It’s as if Kurt Von Trapp grew up to play in the NFL. Except Svitek isn’t incorrigible.
*All we really need to care about is that Brady’s knee is fine. I love the Baby Jesus as much as anyone. But if he’d gotten seriously hurt on Tebow’s birthday, I would’ve converted. To anything.
*Or just done this: