The New England Patriots final preseason game was certainly an intriguing one, and a few questions were answered by the performances of several players on Thursday night. Three big cuts on the day after the game also tell a good bit of the story, and it’s time to re-check what I was watching for.
I said I was interested in watching the New England Patriots quarterbacks, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one keeping my eyes out for Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow. Tom Brady stated that he expected to play against the New York Giants, but the Patriots decided that Brady received enough game situation snaps with his rookie receivers. Mallett got the start, and many believe that he played his best game in a Patriots uniform. The Arkansas product had a few throws he should have made, but he also made several trademark “wow” throws, with the 40-yard pass to Josh Boyce being the highlight. It was Mallett’s best game of the preseason, and he impressed plenty of people. Meanwhile, Tim Tebow had his work cut out for him after a horrendous preseason to that point, and he also played his best game of the preseason. Tebow gained 30 yards on the ground, and he also averaged 8.3 yards per attempt on a 6-11, 91-yard line with two touchdowns and one bad interception (those are to be expected with Tebow). I don’t know if Tebow showed enough, but the fact that he wasn’t cut yesterday combined with a promising performance on Thursday means that he likely has a roster spot.
After the New England Patriots decided to release Ras-I Dowling and give up on the oft-injured, former No. 33 pick, I also had my eyes on the Patriots depth at cornerback. The Patriots re-signed undrafted free agent Stephon Morris on Monday after he fully recovered from an injury, and it seemed like they were intrigued by the ability he showed at Penn State. I was too, but he didn’t show much on Thursday after leaving the game with a hamstring injury (he was initially released on the first of the month due to a hamstring injury). The Patriots reportedly cut Morris yesterday, and that was a rap for him. Marquice Cole received mixed reviews, as some praised him while others criticized. I like Cole on special teams and as a No. 5 CB, but he’s terrible outside of the slot. UDFA Justin Green looks penciled in for a spot on the practice squad, and I will say that I am worried about the Patriots depth at CB if Alfonzo Dennard ends up missing time.
3. Jake Bequette vs. Michael Buchanan
Coming into the game, I believed that Jake Bequette and Michael Buchanan were fighting for one roster spot on the Patriots, but it looks like both young defensive ends are going to make the 53-man roster. That’s because the Patriots decided to cut ties with Marcus Benard, who recorded a sack against the Giants. Benard was the most consistent of the three in the preseason, and it’s a shame to see him cut. He’s a really good edge rusher who could have been a nice pass rushing specialist as a backup in sub-packages, but he was simply stuck on the wrong team. The New England Patriots have some weird role for edge rushers where they kick them to the inside in passing situations, and it’s just not a recipe for success for a guy like Benard. I think he’ll have success as a 3-4 OLB in this league again, because he showed that he isn’t rusty after being out of football. Michael Buchanan locked himself into a roster spot after studying hard coming into the game and performing at a monstrous level with 2.5 sacks, a pass deflected, and three QB hits in total. The former Illinois star played out of his mind, and Bequette also latched on with him instead of being waived to the practice squad (who knows if he would have been claimed by another team or not) due to a better scheme fit (maybe youth was a reason too) than Benard.
4. Jake Ballard
I called Jake Ballard a “near-lock” entering the game and believed him to be more worthy (though not by much) of a roster spot than Daniel Fells, but I also stated that Ballard wasn’t a lock and needed to have a good game in order to secure a roster spot. After an absolutely horrid performance against the Detroit Lions in Week 3 of the preseason, Jake Ballard did little to help his stock on Thursday night against his former team. I’ve never understood why Ballard has been praised heavily for his blocking ability, because that wasn’t a strength of his with the Giants; he made his game off of catching the football. Ballard needed to show better blocking in order to make up for a post-injury decline in pass-catching ability, and that simply was never the case (he was tossed around like a rag doll against the Lions voracious front seven). Ballard’s stat line as a receiver on Thursday? No catches on one target. He just never looked healthy enough this preseason, but cutting him along with Fells was a surprise due to Ballard’s upside if he ever returned to adequate health.
5. Gilbert Pena
This blog strives to cover all aspects of the New England Patriots roster, so we also take a look at undrafted free agent pick-ups like Gilbert Pena who are making their preseason debuts with the Patriots in the last game. The fact that the Pats decided to cut an intriguing UDFA offensive lineman in Brice Schwab in order to claim Pena off of waivers from the Green Bay Packers was interesting enough, and I also found the fact that he was essentially replacing Cory Grissom on the 75-man roster to be noteworthy as well. Pena was a longshot to make the practice squad, but I still wanted to see if he could pull together a really impressive game (stranger things have happened) and make things interesting at DT among the young guys chomping at the bit. Grissom’s redshirting on the injured reserve cleared things up for Joe Vellano and Marcus Forston to make the roster with Armond Armstead on the NFI, but I also wanted to see if Pena would cloud things. That never materialized, as he did absolutely nothing and was promptly released on Friday in a thoroughly unsurprising move.