PHILADELPHIA – The preseason opener against Philadelphia turned out to be an exciting affair, reflecting the type of practices the Eagles and Patriots had waged together all week in their joint training camp sessions: lots of big plays in bunches, frenetic pace.
It's just one game, but the pieces of New England's 2013 roster puzzle are beginning to find places where they fit. Here's what stood out from the team's first real test of the summer:
…The running game looked dominant and the stable of backs were all contributed, both on the ground and through the air. The young wide receiver corps also impressed early, but was hindered by some drops and other balls that were thrown just out of reach. Overall, however, the offense looked like its usual dominant self. Excellent start for New England offensively.
…RB LeGarrette Blount clearly has the edge over Brandon Bolden for the backup running back job to Stevan Ridley. Blount's electrifying first-half touchdown run and another in the second half certainly helped his cause. Bolden, meanwhile, did little to advance his cause, including a penalty for running into the punter on special teams.
…Kudos to o-lineman Will Svitek, a tackle who was starting at RG, then moved to LT with Mallett-led second offensive personnel grouping.
…The team's young receivers were paced by rookie Kenbrell Thompkins' five catches and Aaron Dobson' team high of 35 yards. However, Dobson came down with just two of the eight passes thrown his way. He also played deep into the fourth quarter. Perhaps that was due to the significant reps he missed in practice on Tuesday, when head coach Bill Belichick benched the rookie for getting in an on-field scrap with an Eagles defender.
…Rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld, a starter along with Dobson, is increasingly finding himself running onto the field with Tom Brady. Sudfeld's Rob Gronkowski-like catch and bulldoze run along the Patriots sideline in the first half may have helped him build his case to be a regular contributor, at the very least.
…New England's top 2013 pick, outside linebacker Jamie Collins, just barely missed making two spectacular plays on the night. He whiffed on a would-be sack of Eagles backup QB Matt Barkley in the first half, then was inches away from knocking down a Barkley pass downfield in the second.
….Veteran free agent defensive end Marcus Benard made some positive contributions, registering a sack, a tackle-for-loss, and a quarterback hit.
…Second-year defensive end Jake Bequette, on the other hand, saw some action with the second defensive unit, but failed to make any stand-out plays.
…After Tim Tebow struggled with the conventional offense when he was thrust into the game in place of injured Ryan Mallett, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels began calling option-style plays for him, and those were more successful, to a degree.
….Rookie Ryan Allen is consistently better at long ball punts than incumbent veteran Zoltan Mesko. The job remains up for grabs.
….Fullback James Develin's scratch from the lineup was a puzzler. He's been active and showing up positively throughout camp, including the past few days in Philadelphia, and showed no signs of being injured.