After watching tonight's preseason opener against the Baltimore Ravens, I have to take my hat off to the Pioli-Belichick draft-picking machine. They've done it again.
At least five of the Patriots' top six 2008 draft picks were right on the money, starting with Mayo, Wheatley, Slater, Crable, and last but not least, O'Connell.
Last year, the Patriots' big-time score came in free agency. This year, the Patriots' big-time score came in the draft. I hereby proclaim more paincakes for our dear hatriots. Indeed, the motto of '08-'09 is, "Embrace the hate," and with very good reasons.
Now, as far as preseason goes, the plays are relatively simple, straightforward, and without decoys, baiting, fakes, or what have you. The defense also doesn't throw multiple looks or decoys with fake coverages.
With that in mind, it's a good idea not to get too excited at this point, but we still got some good looks at the potential that was shown tonight.
In Mayo, I am fairly confident that we have a Rookie of the Year in the making. He generally aced his assignment tonight, with five tackles, including one helmet-dislodging hit.
For the most part, he was disciplined, and as far as I know, he only blew one read. I think he will be on the first string. He seems to be picking up on the small details pretty quickly.
Slater, Wheatley, and Crable more or less held their own, although Slater messed up on a kick-return edge containment (he was tempted to cut inside). This allowed the returner to get to open space on the sideline, bypassing the blocking that was set up. This will get him some Belichewing along with abuse of the replay button in the video room.
Speaking of which, some of the rookies will be drawing double-shifts in the video room: typical standard fare when they experience the terror of their first NFL game and draw a complete blank when it comes to the fundamentals.
It was interesting to see Crable in motion. He sort of reminds me of McGinest in his early years with those huge burly arms. One good thing that emerged about him was that he seemed to be everywhere. He seemed to have a knack for ending up in the middle of the play, one way or another; he usually had an impact in how it unfolded.
But by far the biggest surprise out there tonight was Kevin O'Connell. He came on to the field and immediately demonstrated two of the biggest tools that a quarterback needs to succeed in the NFL: field vision and reacting rather than thinking.
It also didn't hurt that he demonstrated his remarkable agility (rushing) and knack for sensing how plays were going to unfold. He also demonstrated some smarts by running out of bounds on a failed screen pass to avoid an ineligible receiver penalty (which would have occurred if he had thrown because the O-line had progressed beyond the line of scrimmage).
Again, it is too early, but I predict that O'Connell emerges as our No. 2 QB, and we can breathe just a little bit easier about having a solid backup for the time being.
Both Cassel and Gutz were somewhat sloppy tonight—with Gutz contributing some comic relief by faking a play-action handoff to nobody in particular. He seemed rather surprised at it as well.
I don't foresee any decision on which one of them gets to remain and which one goes into waiver wilderness. The doomsday clock will continue to tick on this one. Stay tuned.