A few random observations from last night’s preaseason Game 2 at Tennessee, while taking my cues from the one guy you never, ever want to argue with. As always, this is Fauxball, so these are only impressions, never conclusions:
— This obviously wasn’t the success that the game against Detroit was, where on both sides of the ball they made the Lions look like the prison workers in charge of keeping an eye on Jeffrey Epstein. And I’m not talking about the score because I doubt Belichick even keeps score in these dress rehearsal things. Because when your starting lineup on offense is:
Hoyer, D. Harris, Inman, Olszewski, Watson, Beck, Wynn, Karras, Ferentz, Froholdt and Skipper
… this is all about sorting out the roster by giving maximum snaps to your depth guys and your new starters experience in life fire exercises. So the 22-17 win is inconsequential. Besides, the real victory came as soon as Ernie Adams got off the bus:
— Of those starters, the two most interesting results came from Isaiah Wynn and Damien Harris. Wynn played the first three series. And while the line had issues protecting Brian Hoyer, I didn’t see anything from Wynn that made me think he can’t be the left tackle of the present and future. It’s remarkable how quickly the anti-Patriots jihadists turned Trent Brown from a huge question mark into Mr. Indispensable. When the truth is he was picked up as a depth guy last year and was a pleasant surprise. Wynn was Plan A, as the 23rd pick out of a huge Patriots feeder program, and largely considered the best pass blocker in his class. He tore an Achilles and they’ve brought him back slowly. But somehow the Professional Panic Lobby was painting him as a bust already. Last night was the first step to him becoming the latest 10-year starter at the left tackle spot that’s been held by just three guys since 1987. And who’s going to have the job until 2027?
What’re we waiting fer?!?
— Damien Harris has looked solid all through camp and even better against the live competition of the Titans’ 2s and 3s. He runs low with power and breaks tackles. He made that nice little jump cut on an inside zone run to pick up extra yards. He showed the burst to change direction and get outside:
In the passing game he’s a work in progress but he did make a nice grab off his shoes when a checkdown throw to him was low. Plus I like the style of that little rear license plate thing hanging off the back of his shoulder pads. I tend to think he was drafted as Sony Michel insurance, but won’t be surprised if he ends up consistently being a 10-12 carries a game guy in the LeGarrette Blount role.
— As far as the tackles blocking for him, Dan Skipper is clearly being trained as their swing tackle. Cole Crosten has a chance to make the roster. Tyree St. Louis flashes. For instance, made a nice kickout block to spring Harris for a big gain inside. The we haven’t seen is Yodne Cajuste, who right now is your leading candidate for a redshirt freshman year and they’ll see if he can earn a spot in 2020.
— The thing most harshing the mellow of the night were the injuries to Derek Rivers and Shilique Calhoun, on the same drive, no less. Rivers has a huge opportunity to step up this year and put himself in a position to make Trey Flowers money in a year or two. We tend to forget he was taken 18 draft slots higher than Flowers (two drafts later) and is a better physical specimen. Which is understandable, since he’s only played six career games. He went to the locker room and was never seen again, so his career is probably riding on the outcome of that exam. Calhoun went from a guy none of us had heard of to someone who looked like he could be a significant part of the OLB rotation as the Pats bring back the 3-4 front. He spent the rest of the night on the sidelines, which is a good sign.
— While I obviously hope they’re both fine, you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t consider the potential loss of one or both of them to be mission critical. Pats fans over a certain age (my age) will never forget 1989, when in the last preseason game the defense lost starters Andre Tippett (the Hall of Famer), Ronnie Lippett and Garin Veris. The season was effectively over before it began. And a 9-7 team proceeded to go 5-11 and win just 19 games total over the next five years. So our standard of disastrous preseason game injury are a little higher than most. If you remember that, you’re like someone who survived the front in World War I wondering why everyone got so worked up about the Hindenburg.
— The Bob Ross “Turn Your Accidents into Happy Birds” result of Rivers’ and Calhoun’s injuries was more playing time for Chase Winovich, and he made the most of it. In one sequence he sidestepped the right tackle to drop the running back for a loss. Pulled a rip move on the tackle to get inside pressure and force an incompletion. Then went outside to force a throwaway. Then had a sack with a swim move around the edge. And yet my favorite play of his came on a big gain, when he penetrated on the edge to turn a run inside, then stayed in pursuit and make the tackle 15-18 yards upfield. They’re patiently bringing Winovich along, but you chart his trajectory so far and it’s hard not to see him lining up with the starters in Week 1 against Pittsburgh.
— Jarrett Stidham was less consistent than he was last week. At one point on the Titans half of the field he telegraphed a pass that was dangerously close to a Pick-6. And early on it seemed like there were a few plays that were developing nicely, but from where he stood they looked like they were breaking down and he left the pocket instead of staying patient. But as long as he’s protecting the ball and learning when to throw it away and let the punt team and defense handle things, he’ll progress.
— The important thing is that Studman finished better than he started. That 99-yard drive was legit. He connected on a deep drag route to Jakobi Meyers. Made an on-the-money throw to Ryan Izzo up the seam. And his TD toss to Damoun Patterson looked like a Battlefield Reenactment club’s version of Brady-to-Phillip Dorsett in the AFC championship game:
— Meyers continues to not only look like belongs, he has already become Hoyer and Stidham’s safety valve. The guy they look to to bail themselves out when a play is falling apart. If I’m the Pats, I’m going to hire a bag man to pay wideouts to run slow 40s at the Combine and then sign them as UDFAs.
— In the secondary, Joejuan Williams looks better every time you get to see him. He had two PBU’s in the first three Titans’ possessions. He plays big and physical and makes it hard to separate from him and feels like he’s definitely part of the mix at CB2 and in the slot. Duke Dawson, not so much, as he had yet another penalty, which is becoming his thing. I’m pulling for Obi Melofonwu to make the roster just because he’s such an athletic freak. But he has a disturbing knack for being in the vicinity whenever someone makes a catch in the end zone.
— I got way more aroused by Jake Bailey’s free kick after the safety than any grown man should. There’s just something about a man with great hang time.
— After some defensive hold on Tennessee gave the Pats a 1st & goal, Brady was on the sidelines doing some kind of pantomime for Demaryius Thomas that had him in stitches. I never knew Thomas was such a fan of broad, physical comedy. But when the team you have yet to dress for signs Josh Gordon, I suppose you treat the starting QB like he’s 1994 Jim Carrey.
— We can all debate the value of exhibition games for older guys. But there is one seasoned veteran who definitely doesn’t need them. Belichick lives every day of his life in mid-season condition.