Patriots football is finally back. Well, kinda. I love the exhibition season, after a winter and spring of having no football to enjoy, the fact that I get to see guys in Patriots uniforms on my TV screen is enough for me. I don't care that by the second half I don't know who most of them are (and don't pretend like you do either without Google), I'm just happy to see football.
I won't call these games preseason games because that gives the quality of football too much justice. These games are glorified scrimmages, and should be treated as such. Neither team cares if they win or lose, and isn't calling plays like they would in a normal game. They're calling the plays like they would in practice, based on which situations and formations they feel their players need more experience running.
This leads to a game where performances can't be judged realistically, because they are inherently taken out of context. Defenses aren't going to use their best coverage schemes, they just play basic zones and man to man. Quarterbacks have easier reads and receivers are more open than they would be in a real game.
That all being said, I do think that you can take a few things away from these scrimmages that may repeat themselves when they start actually trying to win the games in a few weeks.
Stevan Ridley looks like a legit NFL running back
But not for the reasons you think. It's not because of the yards he gained or the touchdowns he scored—those have to be thrown out the window—but because he passed the eye test. He looks like he belongs out there, he looks like he has the body and footwork of the new prototype NFL back.
You could see it on his first carry of the night. He took the ball up the middle, found nothing, then had the piece of mind and speed to take the ball to the outside. He only got a few yards, but I immediately said to myself, that guy looks like a good runner.
He's wiggly, he has the ability to make guys miss and knows when to just run into them. These are the things that you can take away from an exhibition game, because they don't depend on the opposing defense playing a scaled down version of their game plan.
Rookie running backs have a way of being up and down through their first year, so I don't expect him to be consistently good this year, but at least we know he has it in him.
This Pats team is going to be really, really deep
We didn't see many of the best players on the roster, especially the veterans, at all on Thursday night. And they still dominated the play. Not the score, we already determined that doesn't matter, but they had guys winning one-on-one battles all over the field, especially on the offensive and defensive lines.
Rookie left tackle Nate Solder was so good I forgot he was on the field for large stretches of the first quarter, which is always the best way to know that an offensive lineman, especially one whose primary job is to protect the quarterback, is getting the job done. Solder is unlikely to start over Matt Light, but it's good to know that he can keep NFL pass rushers away from Tom Brady if he is called upon.
Veteran players don't need these glorified practices to get ready for the season
Okay, so we don't actually know that yet, but it's true, just trust me on this one. Does anyone really think that someone like Tom Brady needs the experience of playing against a team that isn't even going to show him the same kind of looks he likely to get this fall? Or that a receiver like Chad Ochocinco, who's been in the league for years, needs to be out there?
The answer is no. These guys keep in shape all year round these days and don't need to "get back up to game speed." Alright, I will give you that there can be some minimal advantages to having them out there, but surely they don't outweigh the possibility that one of the key guys for this season goes down to a serious injury.
Keep Brady and the rest of the core group off the field, and away from harm, until the games actually count.