After rewatching the second half of the Patriots' preseason opener, passing along some quick-hit notes and observations:
1. It was a changeup to see the Patriots turn to read-option sets on Friday night, something that Tim Tebow is comfortable in from his time in college and with the Broncos. But one thing to keep in mind is that while the read-option is different from what the Patriots normally run, the task of shifting gears from one offensive system to another isn't too much for the players to handle. What the Patriots showed on Friday night was just a small sampling of the wrinkles to a read-option attack (which included some full-house looks in the backfield), with several variations that the team could debut in later preseason games. What stood out when Tebow was called upon to run was his contact strength. He's a burly body that is tough to bring down on first contact.
2. LeGarrette Blount was among the standout offensive players last night, finishing with two scores and over 100 yards rushing. The big back didn't just flash the power he needs to bring to the table, but also decisive cuts, good vision and elusiveness. Blount has been known to rely upon a leapfrogging hurdle during his career, which we saw on an early third-quarter carry. Running backs are coached not to leave their feet with the ball in their hands, but hurdles can be effective in small doses.
3. We talked about this a little bit during our postgame takeaways, but it was good to see safety Duron Harmon get to the “honey hole” in Cover 2 looks. Eagles quarterback Matt Barkley tried to fit a throw in to a receiver down the right sideline with just over seven minutes to go in the third quarter, but Harmon was able to speed over from his initial alignment closer to the hash mark and break up the pass. That's a good sign for the third-rounder
4. We didn't see wide receiver Kamar Aiken until the third quarter, a sign that he has perhaps fallen down the depth chart. He was used as the motion player into the backfield for Pistol formation looks, and he also made a nice catch by working back to the ball on a throw from Tebow for first-down yardage. Aiken faces an uphill challenge to make the roster with the infusion of young talent, but he remains an intriguing big-bodied target.
5. Say this for Tebow: It remains a work in progress for him in the drop-back passing game, but he consistently made the right read in read-option looks last night. That's not always easy to do, but he ably guided the Patriots offense on read-option calls.
6. Safety Tavon Wilson has had something of a difficult start to training camp, but he had a sufficient night on Friday. What stood out on Wilson was his downhill approach and ability to impose himself physically as a tackler. Where Wilson needs to be better is in pattern read and getting himself in a position to make a play on the football in the passing game, while improving his angles as a tackler in the open field (he whiffed on Greg Salas' fourth-quarter touchdown catch). While he could be squeezed out of the defensive rotation, his willingness to play physical should make him a core special-teams contributor.
7. A couple of notes on the Patriots' opening punt of the fourth quarter: First, Leon Washington, playing as the team's personal protector, did a great job of getting down the field and making a play in space to bring the returner down. The personal protector must first set the blocking scheme, then account for any internal rushes, then release. Washington got up the field in a hurry and made the play. Additionally, safety Kanorris Davis, who aligned as the right gunner, showed terrific in-line power to nearly knock one of the Eagles' vices flat on his back. Davis is a former college linebacker with major strength.
8. Local product Jason Vega made a flash play early in the fourth quarter, as he came up with one of his three tackles on the night. Vega was detached from the line of scrimmage and hovering over the Eagles slot receiver, but when he sensed a read-option run, he pressed down to the set the edge. The runner managed to bounce the run outside, but Vega wasn't far behind, getting off his block and tracking him down.
9. Marcus Benard had a nice night, finishing with five tackles (one for a loss). It was interesting to see Benard work as an interior rusher at times, something we also saw from Jermaine Cunningham during parts of the 2012 season. The two appear to be in close competition for a roster spot, with Benard impressing already. Cunningham needs to get back on the field soon to state his case.
10. Tip of the cap to the broadcast team for last night's game, as WBZ and the Patriots opted for a unique, conversational approach to calling the action. Dan Roche and Christian Fauria anchored the booth, with Matt Chatham down on the sideline (both Chatham and Fauria are former Patriots). Andy Hart and Paul Perillo checked in from Gillette Stadium with additional insight, and each member of the team provided informative discussion. Kudos to the group for a good first game together.