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PFW's blogservations from Patriots preseason opener
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Here are a handful of blogservations from the four quarters of sloppy, sub-par play that the Patriots put together in Washington:
Browner gets flagged – Brandon Browner has been all over the receivers he's faced this summer in training camp practice. Of course that physical play came without consequence given the lack of officials on the practice fields. Thursday night, the big-bodied veteran corner was flagged for one illegal contact penalty in limited early action against Washington. Browner has average a little more than a penalty per game over his career, and that may only rise moving forward with the NFL making illegal contact with receivers (and receivers pushing off defensive backs) a point of officiating emphasis in 2014. Browner's game is clearly based on his physical style and getting his hands on receivers. If he can't do that it might limit his success. Though many have seemingly anointed him the starter across from Darrelle Revis – even with a four-game suspension to open the new season – Alfonzo Dennard may have something to say about that when he gets on the field practicing again. And if Browner can't keep flag-free often enough, that could hurt his chances of being a mainstay in the back end. It's still early, and how the flags will be thrown remains a mystery, but Browner's physical style certainly seems to go up to and across the line at times.
Brandon Bolden may have a better shot at holding onto his roster spot despite a tumultuous time over the last year or so.
Tight end MIA – A year ago the tight end position was a non-factor in the offense when Rob Gronkowski was out of the lineup. With Gronk back in New England continuing to rehab his way back from a torn ACL, the position was once again of no real value to the offense against Washington. Granted, both veteran backups Michael Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams were also sidelined to injury, but the Patriots did not complete a pass to a tight end all night. There continues to be a real lack of depth or legitimate pass catchers on the depth chart behind Gronkowski at a spot that was once the focal point of the New England offense.
Hawkins' speed intrigues -- Travis Hawkins has been a staple returning kicks during the camp practices all summer long and he got a chance to handle one in the second half Thursday night. His 47-yard return was negated by a holding penalty against Michael Buchanan but the rookie showed exceptional speed as he shot through a hole after taking the kick out from 8 yards deep in his end zone. Color analyst Christian Fauria described the play by citing Hawkins' 4.3 speed. Hawkins, a safety out of Delaware, is a long shot to make the roster but with fellow rookie Roy Finch showing some ball security issues perhaps he can make a bid to stick around based on his return ability. At the very least I'm intrigued to see him get some more opportunities.
LaFell coming on -- After fighting through some periods of inconsistency Brandon LaFell appears to be turning the corner. LaFell had trouble catching the ball early on in camp but has shown better concentration of late and was a frequent target of Tom Brady during the joint practice sessions with Washington. He finished the night with two catches for 16 yards and was open on a couple of other occasions when Ryan Mallett failed to deliver an accurate pass. He also had a 15-yard grab to convert a third-and-seven that was wiped out by a holding call. While LaFell projects as a secondary target behind Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski, his recent emergence is a good sign and perhaps an indication that Brady will have a viable outside threat with size – something the quarterback alluded to during the week – to work with. Read