4 Questions, 4 Analysts: Preseason Week 1
To get you excited about Week 2 of preseason (and to look back on Week 1) four of our analysts got together to reminisce and speculate.
That’s right, Khaled Elsayed, Sam Monson, Steve Palazzolo and Rick Drummond are taking part in the fantastically descriptive, 4 Questions, 4 Analysts as we continue our kick-off week of preseason coverage. They, of course, will be providing four answers.
1. What was the most impressive performance you saw in Week 1 of preseason?
Khaled: The team joke that I’m developing a bit of a man crush on Jeff Tuel but given some of the poor performances I saw from second- and third-string quarterbacks, his was a breath of fresh air and then some. He made quick reads and was incredibly accurate. Color me intrigued.
Steve: There were a few performances that caught my eye, but Tennessee Titans’ defensive end Karl Klug really stood out. He had his way with both Redskins’ guards the entire night, both as a pass rusher and as a run defender. He beat left guard Josh LeRibeus every which way — inside, outside, and with a bull rush — as Klug showed his entire arsenal. The grades looked good, +3.2 pass rush grade to go with his +1.5 against the run, but perhaps most impressive is the new role Klug took on as he lined up extensively at 4-3 defensive end for the first time in his career.
Sam: I’m torn between a pair of defensive tackles on the same team who together saw fewer than 25 snaps in total. Fred Evans and Sharrif Floyd for the Vikings were completely dominant for as long as they were on the field. That’s somewhat expected (if welcome to see) for first-round pick Floyd, but just another marker for Evans to say he should be starting at nose tackle for the Vikings.
Rick: Of the games I did this week, Baltimore’s backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s showing was the one that sticks out. His 48 snaps in two and a half quarters of play was as much about a look at what he’s capable of as it was about adding another layer to the Baltimore offense. That’s not to say he’s going to unseat Flacco anytime soon, but the contrast in styles offers a wrinkle that can be put to use. The touch he showed on deep balls says that part of their game wouldn’t have to be sacrificed.
2. Which position battle is the most intriguing to you?
Khaled: It seemed logical the Bears would go with the veteran D.J. Williams at middle linebacker given his experience. But a fine preseason debut from Jon Bostic (+1.4) and how underwhelming Williams has been in recent years, make me think the heir to Urlacher is the rookie second-rounder. I’ll be watching the Bears this week, keen to see what kind of impact he makes.
Steve: The New England Patriots’ wide receiver competition is intriguing on a number of levels, perhaps mostly because of how many rookies are in the mix. Their struggles in finding receivers in the draft are well-documented, but now they’re looking at two draft picks and one undrafted free agent becoming a significant part of the rotation. In the first game, Kenbrell Thompkins was targeted early on some short passes, Aaron Dobson had eight passes thrown his way, but caught only two of them, and Josh Boyce was wide open and subsequently over thrown on his only target. The trio possesses three unique skillsets, as Thompkins looks like a possession type, Dobson a possible downfield target, and Boyce has a chance to provide a vertical slot threat that hasn’t been featured in New England in recent years. The Patriots’ offense is going through yet another overhaul and this camp battle will help determine which receivers will earn themselves a major role.
Sam: I’m interested in the Buffalo QB job. This was not a good year to need a quarterback, but pre-draft E.J. Manuel was the only one I thought looked to have any kind of real capability. Kevin Kolb getting hurt (again) opened up the door for him to win the starter’s job, but judging from the first game they’re not asking him to do an awful lot at all. Can he prove he’s worth an increased role and what will Kolb do starting this week?
Rick: This is an oddball, but the punting job in Oakland is getting some attention now and has been at least a mild point of intrigue for a while. The spot was a lock for years but with stalwart Shane Lechler gone off to Houston and the likelihood that the Raiders will still be marching out a punter 80 or 90 times this year, the two candidates in camp are making it something to watch. Marquette King was around for Lechler’s last season in silver and black and was stashed away for 2013 – a move many of us assumed signaled the end of the Lechler Era with his replacement identified. Then the team went out during the offseason and signed Chris Kluwe (he of MMQB fame) to come in and compete. Common thought since has been that the known quantity, veteran Kluwe, would win out over the younger, big-legged King. Each got one shot in the first week of preseason… Kluwe put up a 37-yarder while King’s went for 50 (and was muffed and recovered by the Raiders).
3. Which first round picks performance, for good or bad, caught your attention the most?
Khaled: I really didn’t come away impressed by Desmond Trufant. I know Atlanta is counting on him to start and make that right cornerback spot his own, but I found him a little tentative. To a degree that’s to be expected in a guy making his debut, but second-round pick Robert Alford looked a little feistier and game ready.
Steve: Cleveland Browns linebacker Barkevious Mingo has had my attention for a few years now and he had a great showing in his first NFL action. Granted, it was mostly against the St. Louis Rams backups, but he showed the pass rushing ability that was not always properly unleashed in college, picking up three hits and a hurry on 19 rushes. He also held up well against the run and that’s going to be something to watch as the rest of the preseason unfolds. If he takes to the new rush linebacker role and shows an ability to set the edge and take on blocks, he has a shot to break into the starting lineup as an every down player rather than just the expected pass rush specialist role.
Sam: Chance Warmack caught my eye for how little he stood out, even just in terms of brute force. He missed some time so was never likely to dominate right away, but even the block that seems to be held up as a ‘highlight’ from that first game, a pull block on rookie CB David Amerson to spring Shonn Greene for his touchdown, was unimpressive with Amerson playing force and generating more movement on his end. That shouldn’t happen to a guy of Warmack’s size and power.
Rick: Luke Joeckel’s day against Miami was the one I latched on to – especially the 11 snaps where both he and Cameron Wake were on the field. A top-of-the-draft left tackle in his first action after moving to the right squaring off with one of the league’s dominant edge players? That was all the billing I needed. Joeckel’s day wasn’t fully defined with this interaction as he stayed on for 21 snaps beyond Wake’s exit, but there were two moments during the head-to-head that had to be eye-opening for him. On the second snap of Jacksonville’s first possession, Wake blew past the rookie to the outside and arrived in Blaine Gabbert’s ear in just over two seconds. On the last play they faced each other (after having ridden Wake to the outside twice more), Joeckel got a dose of the inside move as Wake darted in for a clear path to more damage that was only mitigated by a screen call going away from him. The two won’t see each other again this season, but the veteran made this day a valuable learning experience that Joeckel will be smart to study.
4. What are you looking forward to watching most in week 2 of preseason?
Khaled: I’m heading back to Buffalo for this answer. I’m not so much interested in the stat line of Kevin Kolb but how the offense operates with him as starter. E.J. Manuel dinked and dunked with the message clear: let’s get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. Can Kolb run the same high tempo offense?
Steve: I really want to see how the players who may have opened some eyes in Week 1 follow it up in Week 2. We all know that one performance does not a career make, particularly one in a limited role in a preseason game, but just as there are players who flash potential and flame out, there are also situations like Victor Cruz who dominated his first preseason game and hasn’t looked back (save for a knee injury that ended his rookie season). So which players will build on their strong opening acts? Is Jeff Tuel really the next great sleeper quarterback prospect? Is Damontre Moore going to be the next great Giants defensive end? Has Duke Ihenacho really put himself into the conversation for the strong safety role in Denver? There were a number of other impressive Week 1 performances, and I want to see how these players handle their early success.
Sam: I’m curious to see how far up the Vikings depth chart at wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson can force himself. He has players sitting above him at the moment, but I can’t see a sensible football reason that would keep him outside of that first team 3-wide formation, given what we’ve seen so far. Another preseason game is another chance to prove that.
Rick: I’ll make sure to see what happens in the few snaps the Chiefs give Alex Smith against the 49ers. Would be much more interesting in the regular season with Harbaugh & Co. really attacking him — they being most familiar with the holes in Smith’s game – but this will still be worth a look. And not only because of the ‘QB faces former team’ lead-in, I want to see him running the new KC offense against that defense.