Who to Watch: Preseason Week 2
With preseason Week 1 in the books, it’s time to move on to Week 2. We’ve covered the first week of preseason games extensively, so be sure to give it a look. As always, some performances stood out and others left a lot to be desired, and the general caveats about overanalyzing small sample sizes certainly applies. However, while some preseason performances are fool’s gold, who can ever forget New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz’s three-touchdown game in his first preseason action? It would have been easy to dismiss it as an early season anomaly, but Cruz has gone on to develop into one of the league’s best receivers. That’s not to say that this list is littered with future pro-bowlers, but they certainly caught my eye.
Here’s a look at some of the top performances from Week 1 – how will these guys respond to early success?
Jeff Tuel, QB, Buffalo Bills (+5.9)
What went well: Our highest grade of Week 1, Tuel was in complete command of the Bills’ offense. He did a nice job of moving the chains in the short passing game and showed impressive accuracy when taking shots down the field. Tuel took advantage of some soft coverage from the Indianapolis Colts, shredding them with a number of slant routes. He only faced pressure on five of his 19 drop-backs.
Needs to show: As impressive as his he was in Week 1, I’m looking forward to seeing him work against a stronger defense and fiercer pass rush. The best quarterbacks in the league have to handle a muddied pocket so the real test will come once he encounters a more formidable rush.
Damontre Moore, DE, New York Giants (+5.0)
What went well: It’s tough to deny that Moore was the best player on the field in Pittsburgh Sunday night as he kicked things off with a blocked punt and never looked back. One of the impressive things about Moore when watching him at Texas A&M was his ability to stick his foot and the ground and take clean angles to the quarterback. He showed off this agility by getting inside opposing offensive tackles for three of his four pressures.
Even in the running game, he did his best (and worst) work trying to get inside blockers. He often made plays, but also got sealed out of a couple runs. Throw in a couple nice plays against the Steelers’ screen game, and it was an impressive all-around effort for Moore.
Needs to show: As Moore progresses, I want to see if he can threaten the edge on the offensive tackle and I’d like to see if teams challenge him by running Power to his side. With Moore’s ability to get inside blockers, he may be an easy target for teams to line up a TE outside and clear him out with the down block that can make Power so effective.
Duke Ihenacho, SS, Denver Broncos (+3.3)
What went well: Running with the first-team defense, Ihenacho did a nice job of attacking downhill in the running game to the tune of six tackles and three stops. Even when he wasn’t making tackles, he made an impact as evidenced by his taking out right tackle Anthony Davis’ pull block to string out a pitch early in the first quarter. When they ran away from him, he filled the cutback lane, when they ran his way, he’d knife into the backfield and make the play. In coverage, he did a nice job tracking a scrambling Colt McCoy and breaking up his pass attempt to Kassim Osgood early in the second and later forced a fumble on WR A.J. Jenkins.
Needs to show: Ihenacho needs to continue to impress in coverage. He did have one misstep against the 49ers when he tracked a corner route too far, allowing an easy first down on a curl route. He appeared to be fooled by WR Anquan Boldin’s crack motion and subsequent tight split in the formation. If he continues to be a force against the run while showing more discipline in the passing game, Ihenacho could thrust himself into the competition at strong safety in Denver.
Kyle Long, OG, Chicago Bears (+2.3)
What went well: On Friday night, Long’s best attribute was his athleticism and ability to make blocks in space. The Bears took advantage of this by running Power and letting him pull on his first two running plays. He found his target at the second level on both plays, even knocking linebacker Chase Blackburn back about four yards at the 9:56 mark of the second. He also did a nice job of getting out in front of a screen pass taking out LB Ben Jacobs in the middle of the fourth quarter. In pass protection, he was near-perfect, with a bull rush from DT Sione Fua the only pressure he surrendered on 38 attempts.
Needs to show: Long will be playing with the starting offensive line unit this week against the San Diego Chargers, so that will be his first real test. I’d like to see him do more in the running game when the Bears run his way. He didn’t get a lot of opportunities in Week 1, and going up against a stout San Diego defensive line will give him a chance to show that he should be starting come opening day.
David Amerson, CB, Washington Redskins (+3.5)
What went well: Amerson did a nice job of keeping plays in front of him, showing an ability to break and make tackles, and he nearly intercepted QB Jake Locker by undercutting a curl route. Against the run, Amerson stuck his nose in and took on blockers, making a particularly impressive play working his way around OT Byron Stingily’s pull block and getting in on the tackle with 7:32 to go in the second quarter.
Needs to show: The former projected first round pick fell to the second because of a subpar season defending the deep ball last year at N.C. State. He was only challenged with underneath throws in Week 1, so I want to see what happens when teams test him down the field, particularly with double moves. As a tackler, he seemed reckless at times, and often leading with his head, so that will be something to watch as the season unfolds.
Other players looking to build on strong first performances:
Alvin Bailey, OT, Seattle Seahawks (+3.3)
The former guard was outstanding in Week 1 as he ventured over to play left tackle. He showed that mauling mentality as he tossed OLB Tourek Williams to the ground at the 5:57 mark of the fourth quarter and perhaps most impressive, posted a perfect day in pass protection on 20 attempts.
Justin Cole, 3-4 OLB, Cleveland Browns (+5.3)
The ex-St.Louis Rams player was one of the week’s best pass rushers with four hurries and a hit on just 19 rushes as he completely owned the last 36 seconds of the game. With the Rams on one last desperation drive, Cole was unblockable off the edge then dropped back on the last play of the game and made the clinching interception on a Hail Mary attempt. He did miss two tackles, both in the running game and on a potential sack, so it’s an area to clean up moving forward.
Paul Worrilow, ILB, Atlanta Falcons (+2.8)
Worrilow was all over the field in pass coverage as he made plays against elusive running back Giovani Bernard, broke on and deflected a deep in-route, and read a HB screen to make the tackle for loss. Against the run, he did a nice job of filling his gap and finishing the play, though he did get picked off at the second level on a few occasions.
Al Woods, 3-4 DE, Pittsburgh Steelers (+4.0)
Woods has played only 188 snaps since being drafted in the fourth round by the New Orleans Saints in 2010 and he’s seen snaps with the Buccaneers, Seahawks, and now the Steelers. He may have found his niche in Pittsburgh as he was dominant in the running game from his left end spot in their 3-4 defense. Woods picked up seven total stops on the day, including a sack.
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