There’s so much to read into from Friday’s exhibition opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a nice win for the Patriots, but that takes a backseat to what we learned about some of the roles key players will have. Let’s take a look at five things that immediately stuck out:
1. LeGarrette Blount’s monster effort shouldn’t surprise you -- He rushed for 1,007 yards in his rookie season. He rushed for more than 700 yards in his sophomore campaign. And then he had his spot taken by Doug Martin, a 1,454-yard rusher in 2012. Like any new player to the Patriots' system, he’s had a hard time adjusting to the complexities of the offense. But when you have a horse like Blount in your stable, the raw talent somehow always shows itself.
Blount finished with 101 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns, including a 51-yard jaunt that showed his 247-pound frame can move well in space.
What’s more impressive for the big back is how he has leapfrogged Brandon Bolden. He was the first running back off the bench, substituting for Stevan Ridley. Bolden, who is fighting for a spot on this roster, should be worried about his job. He’s missed a number of practices in training camp and he didn’t fare well Friday, committing a mental error on special teams by running into Eagles punter Brad Wing. Somehow, he’s gotta catch up.
2. Kenbrell Thompkins isn’t going anywhere -- The undrafted rookie out of Cincinnati continues to impress. He caught four quick passes for 23 yards.
Between Thompkins, Danny Amendola, and Aaron Dobson, Tom Brady has a trio of receivers that have performed well consistently throughout training camp. It helps that we can see how Thompkins’ production in practice translates to game situations. And we should expect to see more of him with this trio. Along with rookie Josh Boyce and veteran Julian Edelman, the five wide receivers appear to be the team’s core group. Of them all, Thompkins figures to be featured more and more, which can be expected after an outstanding camp.
3. Tommy Kelly is disruptive -- If there’s one thing I love about defensive linemen, it’s when they show and prove their worth. Kelly came out and had an instant impact against the Eagles, finding himself chasing Michael Vick and Nick Foles in the first two series.
After only three series of play, Kelly finished with two tackles, a sack, and a forced fumble. He looks like he will benefit greatly from Vince Wilfork’s presence this year. The Patriots are fortunate to have both working in tandem.
4. Ryan Mallett’s development -- It’s safe to say that despite getting knocked out of Friday’s game, this preseason is already going better for Mallett than the previous one. He was 9 of 18 passing for 97 yards. While he didn’t light up the Eagles, he looked more like a rusty gunslinger than a backup quarterback. That’s huge for him, considering that these preseason games are his showcase for prospective NFL teams.
5. The third string quarterback -- Tim Tebow cannot be denied. The backup quarterback looked rough when dropping back to pass, completing just 4 of 12 passes for 55 yards. The knock on him is still the same: he holds the ball too long, he doesn’t read defenses well, and his accuracy is questionable. Tebow’s quarterback rating was a meager 49.0. But what he lacked as a downfield passer, he made up for running the option.
Tebow (31 yards rushing) ran the read option for the Patriots, expanding the team’s playbook beyond its spread and double tight end formations. It confirmed all the suspicions we’ve had about his signing and his use on the team, which will provide a nice change of pace. It helps that he ran well. We should expect to see more of the option and more of Tebow.
Zuri Berry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry.