My 10 takeaways from the beginning of preseason, as teams shake off the rust
1. I think I liked what I saw on our trip to St. Joseph, Mo., to check out the Chiefs. Really liked their defense, including underrated signings in end Mike DeVito, linebacker Akeem Jordan and safety Quintin Demps. Kansas City is loaded with talent—yes, some of it unrealized to this point (Tyson Jackson, Dontari Poe)—especially in the secondary. I’m enthusiastic that coordinator Bob Sutton is in charge. Romeo Crennel was a good coordinator, but he was a little unimaginative. Sutton said he learned a lot under Rex Ryan with the Jets, and it looks like he’s putting it to good use. Safety Eric Berry played around the line of scrimmage on 80 percent of the snaps last season, according to Pro Football Focus, and that will happen again. But here’s hoping Sutton actually follows through and puts Berry in a playmaking role. Biggest concerns with the Chiefs: whether Alex Smith can be more than just a game manager, and the lack of speed on offense. There are a lot of big, lumbering players, but no one scares with speed. Dexter McCluster needs to have a huge season, but the Chiefs could really use an infusion of speed.
2. I think the Rams are going to be challenged rushing the passer. I know coach Jeff Fisher thinks he has plenty in left end Chris Long and right end Robert Quinn, but it’s difficult to see. In one-on-ones on Saturday, the offensive line dominated (save for the indomitable Michael Brockers). The Rams are very talented in the secondary, which hopefully will allow the pass rush a little more time to get to the QB. That needs to happen, or the defense is going to have a tough time getting off the field. Third-round pick T.J. McDonald looks very impressive at safety.
3. I think the Packers are going to be OK at left tackle. There was a lot of concern when Bryan Bulaga, who was moved from right tackle to the left side before the season, was lost for the year with a knee injury, but fourth-round pick David Bakhtiari looked solid against the Cardinals. The truth is, it was a stretch for the Packers to put Bulaga over there in the first place. He’s a powerful player with short arms and slower feet—basically made for the right side. Bakhtiari, while certainly a work in progress, has longer arms and quicker feet. He was probably Green Bay’s best left tackle to begin with. The bigger question is, Can Marshall Newhouse or Don Barclay handle right tackle? Looks like Barclay is the better player and can get the job done.
4. The most impressive facet of the Patriots’ 31-22 victory over the Eagles was the play of New England’s offensive line. Outside of third-stringer Will Svitek having to start at right guard, the unit was sensational in both phases of the game. The running holes were huge, and Tom Brady and Ryan Mallett had clear passing lanes. This is the first time in a few years the Patriots have stability on the offensive line, and the unit should be one of the league’s best. Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, underrated Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer are healthy and playing at a high level.
5. The Eagles, by the way, are going to be really challenged this season. There is a severe lack of talent, and there’s obviously a big transition in offensive and defensive schemes going on. Philadelphia could be one of those teams that starts slow, but then builds some momentum into next season. Sort of like how the Dolphins, under Nick Saban, started 3-7 in his first season in 2005, but won their final six games. Miami’s momentum could have been carried over if Saban had picked Drew Brees over Daunte Culpepper—and if Saban hadn’t had one eye on the back door to Alabama.
6. I don’t think I was too hard on Twitter as I watched the debut of Titans rookie right guard Chance Warmack live against the Redskins. On his 28 snaps, Warmack had 10 plays that could be graded as negative. Even the pull he had on Shonn Greene’s touchdown, Warmack (6-2, 317 pounds) failed to finish his block on rookie cornerback David Amerson (6-1, 205). It was an effective block, but I can almost guarantee you the Titans coaches told Warmack in film review that he needs to leave no doubt and flatten a defensive back. Look, we all know Warmack is going to a dominant guard before too long. Thanks to his holdout, Warmack had only been in pads a few days and it showed: he was slow off the ball and his pad level was high. That will all be corrected in short order, but it wasn’t a good start for a 10th overall pick.
7. I think the most uninspiring debut for a Super Bowl contender was the Falcons’ 34-10 loss to the Bengals. The worst fears about their offensive line (especially right tackle) and the defense were on display. There was no push by the line. The defense looks limited on all three levels of the scheme. Getting linebacker Sean Weatherspoon back from injury will be a huge bonus, but there has to be mounting concern about the pass rush. Kroy Biermann looks about as good playing in a two-point stance as former Packer Aaron Kampman did (not very good at all). Osi Umenyiora looks to be the only hope in the pass rush department, but how much can he do by himself and for how long?
8. I think the most surprising team (despite a 31-10 loss) was the Chargers, who are now under first-year coach Mike McCoy. The Seahawks are a measuring stick, and San Diego’s first units held their own. The offensive line, with first-round right tackle D.J. Fluker, looks to be the real deal. Philip Rivers is getting his mechanics in line—they waned for way too long under former coach Norv Turner. With Danario Alexander (another good signing by general manager Tom Telesco) on injured reserve and Malcolm Floyd hurt, the Chargers need some help at receiver. They likely have no choice but to sign a guy like Brandon Lloyd, who had 74 catches for the Patriots last season but was very erratic in the locker room (it would be his seventh team in 10 years).
9. I think I didn’t see much growth from either starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill or Blaine Gabbert, in the Dolphins’ 27-3 victory over the Jaguars. Tannehill’s final line (5 of 9 for 75 yards and one TD) is fine, but I figured I’d see more polish in Tannehill’s mechanics after an entire offseason of work. His footwork remains sloppy and inconsistent, and he still stares down receivers at times. All of that will get him in trouble. It’s obvious Gabbert (5 of 10 for 19 yards) is still playing with little confidence. He needs to find some or it’s going to be Chad Henne’s starting job before long.
10. I think I can see why the Ravens quickly went out and signed tight end Dallas Clark and slot receiver Brandon Stokely this week. With tight ends Dennis Pitta (likely out for the year with hip injury) and Ed Dickson (torn hamstring) out of action, it’s evident the Ravens don’t have much in the way of inside receiver. It’s apparent that Visanthe Shiancoe isn’t going to offer much, and could be on the way out. He has no speed left and struggled blocking. Receiver Deonte Thompson isn’t a consistent catcher. Basically, it was time for reinforcements.
The MMQB crew has hit the road for training camps. Check out all our coverage.