Pats first-quarter review: O-line shuffling

Picked-up pieces from first-quarter film review of the Patriots’ 42-35 preseason win over the Eagles:

1. The Patriots used four different combinations on the offensive line in each of their four drives. They are broken down below and highlight how coaches are still evaluating the best combinations. The main competitions are at center and right guard.

Solder-Mankins- Connolly- Devey-Vollmer




2. As the combinations above show, first-year player Jordan Devey is getting a chance to show what he can do with extended reps as he was the one player who wasn’t subbed out. It was a mixed bag for him. On the team’s second play, a loss of 2 yards by running back Stevan Ridley, the 6-foot-6, 317-pound Devey was pushed back by defensive lineman Cedric Thornton as the Eagles penetrated through to stop the play before it could get started. Devey was also penalized on the play for hands to the face. Devey, who spent last year on the practice squad, is a player who should draw more attention this week as he has the potential to play all five spots on the line, which adds to his value.

3. In a reminder that Bill Belichick hasn’t changed his approach since Rob Gronkowski injured his left forearm playing on the field-goal protection unit in 2012, outside linebacker/defensive end Chandler Jones was in that role Friday night. That’s something Jones also did last year.

4. Curious to hear from Belichick on what he saw on the forced fumble on the Eagles’ first offensive drive, and if it was more cornerback Malcolm Butler or linebacker Dont’a Hightower ripping/jarring the ball free. Either way, Butler continues to be around the ball when good things happen.

5. There was significant improvement with the run defense, which was expected with Rob Ninkovich, Jones, Hightower and Jamie Collins playing this week in the 3-4 alignment after sitting out the preseason opener. Belichick has talked about the front seven creating a wall up front in the running game, and the defense was very good in that area early against a tough back in LeSean McCoy. Ninkovich was exemplary in setting the edge and beating right tackle Allen Barbre for a sack on back-to-back plays.

6. Fullback James Develin has obviously put a lot of time into becoming a more reliable pass-catcher. He had just four receptions all last season, but he showed up with catches of 12 and 15 yards on the Patriots’ second scoring drive. Both catches came with Develin on the run, with the 15-yarder a look-over-the-shoulder effort, and he brought them both in. It didn't necessarily look natural, but solid end result nonetheless.

7. Left guard Logan Mankins just wants to hit someone. That much was clear on the first offensive play, a 7-yard Ridley run, when he exploded out of his stance, combined on a double-team block on nose tackle Bennie Logan, got to the second level to combine on a block against linebacker Mychal Kendricks, then shoved cornerback Cary Williams at the end of the play. The Patriots wanted to establish the run (they finished with 250 rushing yards) and Mankins helped set that tone on the opening snap.

8. On Cary Williams’ pick-six, it was a case of Tom Brady expecting the depth of the route to be a bit more shallow than tight end Steve Maneri ran it. The Patriots asked a lot of Maneri, who had just signed Sunday and played 68 of 91 snaps. Nice recap on Maneri’s take of things by Tom Curran of CSNNE.com.

9. Underrated blitz pickup by running back Shane Vereen and the offensive line as the Eagles sent a fifth rusher on the first third-down play, a third-and-7. Vereen chipped Kendricks, who was looping in on the right edge. The ball was still out quickly, so Vereen’s pickup wasn’t essential, but when it comes to correctly identifying an assignment and executing it, Vereen passed the test. That’s a big part of his value to the club.

10. Dominating blocks by offensive tackles Solder and Vollmer, who aligned next to each other on Ridley’s 11-yard run on the opening drive and authoritatively opened holes, and then the Patriots kept the same personnel grouping on the field for the next play, a 6-yard run. The Patriots went with that “jumbo” package eight times in the first half, with mixed results as they totaled 31 yards (3.8 avg.).

11. For players like linebacker Darius Fleming and rookie defensive back Jemea Thomas, who could be considered on the roster bubble, the fact they showed up on the kickoff return unit could be viewed as a positive.