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Stock Watch: Garoppolo shines, defense struggles

Bill Belichick’s Patriots opened up the preseason Thursday night at Gillette Stadium with a 31-24 loss to the Jaguars in a game that saw New England sit out most of its starters.

With Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks and Co. watching from the sidelines, backup Jimmy Garoppolo shook off a slow start to put forth a positive performance.

But on the flipside, with the likes of Malcolm Butler, Stephon Gilmore, Devin McCourty and the rest left as spectators New England’s backups and young players struggled, allowing three touchdowns of 42 yards or longer.

All told there were positives and negatives on both sides of the ball, though. That in mind here’s a look at some of the personnel highs and lows from the opening preseason action of the summer that clearly left Belichick, Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia with plenty of coaching points to work with moving forward.

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*Jimmy Garoppolo – *The fourth-year backup hasn’t had a great summer on the practice field and got off to a slow start against Jacksonville. But he heated up late in the second quarter with a two-minute drive capped by a 3-yard touchdown to Austin Carr. Garoppolo then opened the second half with a 74-yard march to a 5-yard score to K.J. Maye. All told the No. 2 completed 22 of 28 passes for 235 yards and the two touchdowns for a 125.4 passer rating. He missed some reads and throws, but overall it was an improvement from his practice action and something he can build on moving forward.

*Jacob Hollister – *The undrafted rookie out of Wyoming had been heating up of late on the practice field and continued the positive momentum against Jacksonville. Hollister got open – uncovered at times, even – to the tune of a game-high seven catches for 116 yards. He showed soft hands and solid route running. He took a hit over the middle and held onto the ball. He showed some athleticism, hurdling a defender after a catch down the sideline. It was an impressive first effort for the young rookie as he transitions from a lower level to the NFL.

Dion Lewis –* *Nearly two years removed from his torn ACL, Lewis looked more like his early-2015 self against the Jaguars. Lewis seemingly made the first defender miss every time he touched the ball and appeared to maximize his touches for the most part. He finished with seven carries for 32 yards (4.6 avg.) with a long of 12 yards. He added four catches for 23 yards. As he fights for a role in a crowded backfield, Lewis took advantage of his reps.

Austin Carr –* *The undrafted rookie receiver already seemingly has a strong following among fans. After Thursday night, that will only grow. Carr caught five passes for 44 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown jumping and falling to hold on in the back of the end zone. Carr also may have been part of the prettiest play of the night on a toe-tapping comeback down the right sideline from Garoppolo. Carr faces an uphill battle for a roster spot and a role, but he looks to be well on his way to a productive first summer in the NFL.

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*Jordan Richards – *The third-year safety saw significant action and it didn’t go well. He failed to haul down Corey Grant as the last guy with a shot at the running back on his 78-yard touchdown run. He also seemed to be late to deep left side of the field on Dede Westbrook’s 42-yard touchdown. Richards was the senior defensive back on the field as the big plays piled up. Directly and indirectly that’s a bad sign for him on a team that abhors allowing big plays on defense. Richards could be at a career crossroad and battle for his roster life. If that’s the case, his chances took a hit on Thursday night.

*Cyrus Jones – *In his first chance back on the game field after a rookie year he’d likely love to forget, the 2016 top pick was in the crosshairs of criticism yet again. The corner back let Keelan Cole get by him right off the line with the Jaguars backed up at their own 3, giving up a 97-yard touchdown. There was no safety help and certainly Jones looked helpless. Jones also had a couple hiccups in tackling while working in the slot. He caught the ball well on both punts and kickoffs, but wasn’t able to do much with his chances on returns. The fresh start in his second season didn’t necessarily look like a new man in a new year, especially on defense.

*Elandon Roberts – *The second-year linebacker suffered both injury and insult against Jacksonville. He was a bit overzealous jumping into holes, including allowing a nice Leonard Fournette run early. Later he missed a chance on Grant’s long touchdown run. In the second half, Roberts limped off with an injury.

Deatrich Wise Jr. – The rookie defensive end has been getting high-end reps in practice at a wide open position following Rob Ninkovich’s retirement. The fourth-round pick started his first career preseason game. Unfortunately he left the game early and went to the locker room after taking a knee to the head. Even with such an open battle for roles at end, Wise can ill-afford to miss too much time this early in his career. That is often very difficult to come back from.

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