EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Before the Patriots’ preseason finale, there was a trumped up expectation that some of our open questions on the team would be definitively answered. That most certainly was not the case Thursday night.
Instead, after the Patriots lost to the New York Giants 16-13 at MetLife Stadium, there were more questions about the state of this team in its current form than before. And forgive me if I’m being dramatic, but there’s also the future of the franchise to consider. On Thursday night, a window to 2017 and beyond was on display. Here are my takeaways from Thursday’s game that explores these issues.
1. Shuffled line sees at least one consistent presence — Josh Kline played all of the team’s snaps at left guard. He had been an expected competitor for the starting position along with Jordan Devey. Devey played left tackle for the Patriots before he was replaced by Chris Barker (who started at right guard). Marcus Cannon, who was suited up for Thursday’s game, did not play a snap as the team decided to rest its key players. So the likes of Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer, and Ryan Wendell were absent from the final preseason matchup. It may be presumptuous, but after a strong start to training camp for Kline, he could very well be Mankins’ replacement. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean Kline, or anyone else for that matter, will live up to Mankins’ reputation as a top notch player. It was a mixed bag Thursday night for Kline and it’s not too bold to say he probably wishes he had a couple of plays back, including one notable sack allowed. Whether Kline is the future, or whether it is some combination of Devey and Cannon, no one knows outside of the organization. There was no way to answer that question Thursday night with what was displayed on the field. Instead, we must wait until the regular season opener.
2. The amazing Tim Wright — The fact that Tim Wright suited up and was able to catch four passes for 43 yards after basically a day and a half with the organization is outstanding. This sport is not like baseball, in which players can simply be subbed in, hit, and be seen as an instant impact. Football requires more learning and chemistry. So it was nice to see him get in tune with Jimmy Garoppolo Thursday in what can only be assumed was a slimmed down version of the team’s playbook on display. Wright can definitely generate some excitement as the team’s flex tight end, lining up detached more often than not, in this pass happy offense. It’ll be fun to see how this develops.
3. Aaron Dobson gets back into the fold — It didn’t mean anything, given the circumstances of a pointless preseason game, but the tuneup was well worth it for Aaron Dobson (3 receptions, 57 yards, 1 touchdown) as well. After missing the majority of the offseason practices while recovering from foot surgery, Dobson looked crisp in his routes and reminded us why his size, speed, and hands are quite simply superior to his colleagues. His continued health and integration into the offense will make life difficult for other players, especially as the group goes through a period of change leading up to the opener.
4. Josh Boyce’s outing a forgettable one — For what could possibly have been his last outing with the Patriots, wide receiver Josh Boyce played less than stellar. All niceties aside, he stunk. He was targeted nine times and caught two passes. But it wasn’t just that seven of the passes thrown in his direction went incomplete, it’s the manner in which each incompletion occurred. Whether it was a miscommunication, a lack of effort, or an inability to get to the spot, he just didn’t pass the eye test. (Mind you, Dobson caught three passes on nine targets and looked remarkably better in those incompletions.) As much as the team may not want to part with their 2013 fourth round draft choice, he’s simply not as good as Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins, or Brian Tyms, all of whom play similar roles in the offense. There’s seemingly no place for him. Not on special teams, not as a returner (thank Roy Finch and Jeremy Gallon for that), and not as a receiver. Right now, for all intents and purposes, he’s just another body waiting to get cut. On Thursday, he did nothing to change that perception.
5. Jimmy Garoppolo did a fine job for a rookie — It’s not going to be all roses and sunshine for Jimmy Garoppolo. And that definitely shouldn’t be expected for a player coming out of Eastern Illinois, a lower division school. Garoppolo struggled Thursday night, the first time we can say he did so for an extended period of time. He finished 22 of 42 passing for 284 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. As the game went along, he managed to pull himself together and lead the team on some solid drives. But what was more interesting was to see him perform against a first-team defense and connect with Dobson and Wright, possibly three future cornerstones of the franchise operating on the field together Thursday night for the first time. In what is an otherwise meaningless game, that kind of exposure and learning experience will only help Garoppolo down the road. And that window into the future will only prepare Patriots fans for what’s to come.
Zuri Berry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @zuriberry and on Google+.