New England Patriots: Questions That Still Must Be Answered This Preseason
Uneven quarterback play, a porous run defense and some questionable play in the secondary left many fans shaking their heads. The anticipated addition of some normal starters to the lineup against the Philadelphia Eagles should help, but Bill Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff will want to see improvement down the line.
Here are five questions Belichick and the rest of the Patriots organization will need to answer before kicking off against the Miami Dolphins in the regular season.
Is Ryan Mallett the Backup Quarterback?
While Ryan Mallett's performance against the Washington Redskins wasn't worthy of some of the derision afforded him by New England Patriots fans, it probably wasn't what Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels wanted to see.
Mallett was erratic with his touch and looked awkward moving when pressured. Mallett's mentor—Tom Brady—isn't the most athletic guy in the world, but his deft moves in the pocket consistently buy him extra time.
Jimmy Garoppolo, however, carved up the Redskins' third-team defense with ease. He looked calm going through progressions and showed off some outstanding touch down the field on some deep throws.
After one exposure, the race on the field looks tight. However, Mallett's multiple years in the system will likely win out in the end.
Two or More Tight Ends?
While the tight end transactions have been coming at a rapid pace as of late, two players remain at the top of the heap for the New England Patriots: Rob Gronkowski and Michael Hoomanawanui.
Behind them, D.J. Williams, Ben Hartsock and Steve Maneri are competing for a spot that might not exist.
Belichick and McDaniels may have to decide between keeping a marginal tight end without much upside or a promising young wide receiver or defensive back. Cutting Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins, Brian Tyms, Roy Finch or Brandon Bolden for the services of Maneri seems quite shortsighted.
That rings especially true with a willing fill-in in James Develin already on the roster.
In the final three preseason games, a tight end will not only have to separate himself from the rest of the tight ends, he'll have to prove himself indispensable to the team as a whole.
Who Starts Opposite Darrelle Revis?
Barring an injury, Darrelle Revis will be one of the two—or three if you count the nickel defense as the new base defense in the NFL—starting cornerbacks for the New England Patriots. His opposite number remains to be seen.
Brandon Browner could be the answer after his four-game suspension has been served, but Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard will have to do until then. Dennard has been slowed by injuries so far in camp, while Ryan didn't look up to his rookie form against the Washington Redskins.
One possibility that would have shocked many Patriots fans back in May is Malcolm Butler, who has been up for every challenge this offseason.
Doug Kyed from NESN.com had a good read on his limitations and successes:
Butler ran a 4.62-second 40-yard dash with a 7.20-second three-cone, 4.27-second short shuttle, 9-foot-10 broad jump and 33.5-inch vertical leap. NFL teams typically want to see a 40-yard dash in the 4.4 range, a sub-7-second three-cone, a short shuttle near four seconds, a broad jump over 10 feet and at least a 35-inch vertical leap.
Butler can’t burn up a track or jump out of gym, but he’s proven to be a playmaker on the practice field and in the Patriots’ first preseason game, when he allowed just two receptions on seven targets from Washington Redskins quarterbacks.
Butler will likely be on the roster bubble come September, but his play so far has certainly turned some heads.
Is There Enough Defensive Line Depth?
With Chris Jones and Sealver Siliga injured and Dominique Easley still working toward being 100 percent, the defensive tackle depth is looking a might bit slimmer than Vince Wilfork.
That may have changed with the addition of Jerel Worthy and Ben Bass, via two trades, reported by ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky and ESPNBoston.com, respectively, that went down two days before the second preseason game.
Bass—who couldn't get much playing time on Dallas' porous defense—isn't a likely candidate to make the roster. Worthy, however, has enough potential as a one-gap disruptor that he could be seen as another option alongside Jones and Easley.
If nothing else, the new additions should give veterans Tommy Kelly and Vince Wilfork some additional time off during training camp.
Who Are the Fourth and Fifth Linebackers?
Jerod Mayo, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins look like shoo-ins to be your starting linebackers when the New England Patriots line up against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1. Their counterparts down the depth chart have yet to be decided.
James Anderson's tackling and coverage ability give the former Chicago Bear a leg up in the race, but Steve Beauharnais and Chris White won't be far behind due to their versatility on special teams.
James Morris, an undrafted free agent who has been released and re-signed once already, could be a dark horse for some playing time later in the year. He played middle linebacker for four years in the Big Ten for the Iowa Hawkeyes, although he has been primarily working with the special teams units in camp.
As of right now, I'd give Anderson and Beauharnais the edge going into the second preseason game.