Palazzolo's Pitch: Preseason Final
On the eve of the 2013 season opener, Steve Palazzolo returns to share a selection of the thoughts rattling around in his sizable head. Rhyme and reason be damned, here are some preseason storylines that caught the eye.
2012 First Rounders Bouncing Back
After missing most of last season due to either injury or ineffectiveness, we got our first extended look at a handful of 2012 first round picks.
Dre Kirkpatrick, CB, Cincinnati Bengals
Limited to only 43 snaps last year due to injury, Kirkpatrick is unlikely to see a lot of time with three solid cornerbacks ahead of him in the depth chart, so this preseason may be the most extensive playing time he receives this season. He’s graded at -4.6 (-6.1 in coverage) on his 134 August snaps including a rough night in Week 3 against the Dallas Cowboys as he picked up two penalties in coverage and missed two tackles while surrendering 9-of-10 passes into his coverage including two touchdowns. Kirkpatrick heads into the season as the No. 4 or even No. 5 cornerback for the Bengals.
David DeCastro, G, Pittsburgh Steelers
DeCastro received a lot of Top-10 hype before the 2012 draft, eventually falling to the Steelers at No. 24 overall. A preseason injury kept him out until Week 15 and he finished the season with only 138 snaps. He showed well in his first start before receiving his “Welcome to the NFL” moment at the hands of DT Geno Atkins and the rest of the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense. He graded -5.2 on his way to surrendering five pressures, including two sacks. This preseason, DeCastro was the best of the Steelers’ starting offensive linemen grading at +2.1 and holding up well in pass protection surrendering only two pressures on 68 pass block attempts.
A.J. Jenkins, WR,
San Francisco 49ers Kansas City Chiefs
Thought to be a mid-round pick, at best, by many evaluators, Jenkins snuck into the first round when the 49ers took picked him at No. 30 overall. He’s been fighting “bust” status ever since, but perhaps the 49ers should take the blame for overrating his ability. Jenkins saw the field for only 37 snaps last season and he dropped the one ball thrown his way. The 49ers were quick to realize their mistake and flipped him to the Chiefs for WR Jonathan Baldwin, an underachieving wide receiver in his own right. We’ll see if the change of scenery works in Jenkins’ favor.
The Good and the Bad with Ogletree
The St. Louis Rams’ third preseason game against the Denver Broncos was a great example of what they’re getting with first round linebacker Alec Ogletree. Many draft analysts saw him as a raw athlete who free-lances against the run, but has really good potential against the pass given his history playing some safety in college.
He showed both on against Denver as you can see him get handled at the second level and overshooting gaps in the running game early in the first quarter, but he came back with some big-time plays against the pass. With 5:10 to go in the second, QB Peyton Manning tried to hit the post behind Ogletree’s coverage, but perhaps underestimating the rookie’s range and length, nearly had the pass intercepted as Ogletree tried to reel in the forced throw with one hand. On a similar play later in the quarter, another questionable decision for Manning saw Ogletree cash in on the interception. This time, he turned and ran with the seam route and Manning’s attempt at sneaking it over his head failed again as Ogletree tipped the pass to himself and hauled it in for the interception.
There’s still a ways to go in Ogletree’s development, but that type of ability in the passing game is exactly what the NFL is looking for.
There’s another Rams player to keep an eye on, built from a very similar mold as Ogletree. Undrafted rookie free agent Ray Ray Armstrong also played safety in college and he’s playing at linebacker for the first time. He finished with a +2.8 coverage grade during the preseason and may be a candidate to see some early snaps in nickel and dime packages.
Matchup Review: Akeem Spence vs. Mike Pouncey
Sure, Buccaneers DT Akeem Spence has already gotten some pub in this space, but he’s back again after watching his battles with Dolphins center Mike Pouncey in Week 3 of the Preseason. The two teams will meet again in Week 10, so hopefully the preseason version was just a quick taste of a more extended battle. Pouncey graded as our No. 8 center last season at +17.7 so he’s certainly no slouch, but Spence held his own. Let’s take a look:
Second Quarter 4:05
Spence lines up at the “tilt nose” position and is charged with penetrating the A-gap between Pouncey and the guard. He does it well as he beats Pouncey off the ball and meets running back Mike Gillislee for the 3-yard loss. Spence’s quickness was just too much for Pouncey on this play.
Third Quarter 12:47
Pouncey exacts some revenge early in the third quarter as he attempts a reach block on Spence and after some jostling, gains the decided advantage. It’s a challenging block for Pouncey who has to get across Spence’s shade in order to open up the playside A-gap for running back. He takes a quick bucket step to gain some depth, nearly loses the block as Spence fights hard to the gap, but Pouncey recovers and finishes Spence to the ground. The play results in a 10-yard gain for RB Jonas Gray.
Tune in for Round 2 in Week 10.
Rookies in the Slot
Rookie CBs Tyrann Mathieu of the Cardinals and Micah Hyde of the Packers have already emerged as potential difference-makers as slot cornerbacks. Both players appear to possess the versatile skillset needed to man the position which is essentially now a starting gig around the league.
Mathieu played the role well in college and reminded of a young Antoine Winfield the way he could blitz, attack the run, and cover from the position. He’s shown well to this point grading at +1.8 in coverage with three pressures on his seven blitz opportunities. Expect to see even more opportunities for him to attack the backfield during the regular season.
Hyde spent 84 of his 156 preseason snaps in the slot and notched seven pressures on his 20 blitzes. He ranked as the No. 2 cornerback against the run at +2.8 and ranked third in run stop percentage at 7.7. The Packers already feature last year’s top slot cornerback in Casey Hayward, so Hyde just provides even more versatility to an already-loaded cornerback corps.
– The Ravens appear to have a very specific plan for rookie linebacker Arthur Brown who played 104 of his 119 preseason snaps in their 2-4-5 nickel package. Young players, particularly high draft picks, generally get as much playing time as possible, but Brown’s being limited to only 15 snaps in their base defense could be an indication that they’re just having him focus exclusively on his work in the nickel.
– Speaking of nickel linebackers, who fills that role for the Patriots? It would appear that Jerod Mayo is a lock, but the competition beside him includes Dont’a Hightower, Brandon Spikes, Dane Fletcher, and rookie Jamie Collins. The Patriots looked at various pairings during the preseason and all four players bring unique skill sets to the position. This will be one position battle to watch this weekend.
Signature Stat Talk
– Think the Lions might use their running backs in the passing game? They featured the top two running backs in Yards/Route Run in Reggie Bush (3.87) and Joique Bell (3.79).
– Texans fans enjoyed this tweet.
– Steelers DE Al Woods led all 3-4 defensive ends with a run stop percentage of 16.4 percent.
And… football season.
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