AFC East Pre-Preseason What to Watch
What is the preseason? What is it’s value? For the fan, it is the sign of things to come. It’s the wonderful embrace of a new NFL season. Best of all, nobody knows how things will work out when the regular season kicks off. During the preseason, every team has hope and every team has a chance at the ultimate prize; the Super Bowl. Yeah, it’s mainly because backups play most of the game and general team depth is really what decides these games, but it also, more specifically, is a time where players must prove themselves. While the starters sit, the bench players fight for playing time, recognition, or a roster spot. These roster battles go well into the 4th Quarter while even the most die-hard fans struggle to remain focused. To counter that, I am providing what I will be watching this preseason, as our beloved sport makes it’s way to the regular season.
What to Watch: The new and improved defensive line and if that influences the first-team defense – Buffalo went out and got DE Mario Williams from Houston and DE Mark Anderson from New England in an attempt to solidify a defensive line that will need to get after Pats QB Tom Brady come regular season.
Short Term Question: Can the Bills offense find their groove from early last season? – Last season began with the Bills taking the league by storm by starting the season 4-1 and knocking off New England and Philadelphia in the process. Then defenses began to “figure out” QB Ryan Fitzpatrick and the offense sputtered down the stretch to a 6-10 finish. The lack of offensive production was a problem.
Long Term Question: Are all of these “new look” Bill acquisitions enough to surpass New England? – DEs Mario Williams and Mark Anderson were brought in to improve the pass rush that needs to pressure Pats QB, Tom Brady. CB Stephon Gilmore was drafted with the 10th pick in April to improve the pass coverage and provide a bigger coverage guy specifically for the Patriot tight ends. Only time will tell if any of these moves actually push Buffalo past New England, but Buffalo is certainly aware of who they need to prepare for.
Rookie to Watch: The obvious answer is CB Stephon Gilmore. He was brought in to help solidify a secondary that needs help covering New England’s receivers and tight ends. His development through the preseason will be fun to watch. The less known rookie to watch is WR T.J. Graham from N.C. State. He is a burner who was taken in the 3rd round. Mike Mayock thought he had 7th round value. That either means Buffalo know what they want him for and will use him as such, or… they may have reached a bit.
Veteran to Watch: Ryan Fitzpatrick – He has a lot of pressure to do well and do well soon. Last season he had moments of excellence and then moments of ” what QB has value with our first draft pick”. “The Amish Rifle” will need to get back on track for Buffalo to have a shot this season and it starts here in the preseason.
What to Watch: The QB Competition – Ryan Tannehill was drafted with the 8th overall pick last April to be a franchise quarterback. He isn’t being rushed into the starting spot yet, but he is still part of the QB competition between ex-Jaguar David Garrard, incumbent Matt Moore and, of course, Tannehill. Garrard and Moore certainly have the experience, but if Tannehill shows well in the preseason, youth always seems to win out.
Short Term Question: Is this Miami Dolphins team really any better than last years model that finished 6-10? – The key pieces they added were Garrard and Tannehill, they drafted OT Johnathon Martin from Stanford and picked up WR Chad Johnson (formerly Ochocinco). They lost All-Pro WR Brandon Marshall and another QB, Chad Henne. To me, that doesn’t sound like they improved talent wise, but with new coaching, anything is possible.
Long Term Question: Is Miami going to be able to find success with their current WRs? – Looking at their depth chart now… I would say no. They have Chad Johnson, Devone Bess and Brian Hartline pegged as their top wideouts. It could be worse, but over the course of the season, time will tell if this group can manage.
Rookie to Watch: QB Ryan Tannehill – He is the guy that Miami has chosen as the best Miami Dolphin QB since Dan Marino. The preseason is the first place to test this theory. He will make rookie mistakes, but glimpses of something great would be enough for Dolphin fans.
Veteran to Watch: WR Chad Johnson – The guy just changed his name back to “Johnson” after his stint as “Ochocinco”. He is coming off of a season where he was worthless to the New England Patriots and most everything you hear is about how he has lost a step. This means we will either have the story of the year as he takes the league by storm or he will disappear back into obscurity.
New England Patriots
What to Watch: The well-oiled machine that is the New England offense even though it’s the preseason. If this preseason is anything like those of the past, the Patriots will be moving down the field with ease as QB Tom Brady utilizes the multitude of weapons around him… for 2 possessions… then we see QB Brian Hoyer do the same.
Short Term Question: How does the Patriots defense look this year? – Last season the Pats D wasn’t their strong point, so during the offseason they went out and signed DE Jonathan Fanene, drafted DE Chandler Jones from Syracuse and ILB Dont’a Hightower from Alabama with their first 2 picks. These additions combined with the hopeful improvement of other young players on the defense should make things easier on Tom Brady during the regular season. Preseason is where we will get a taste.
Long Term Question: Who is replacing “The Law Firm”? – RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis is now in Cincinnati. He wasn’t a game-changing RB, but he was still the starter so now what? Most reports point to promising 2nd year player, Stevan Ridley as the starter long term. Shane Vareen will also most certainly get touches as well. It will be interesting to see if Belichick uses the quicker, more elusive Ridley differently than how Green-Ellis was utilized (primarily red zone runner).
Rookie to Watch: DE Chandler Jones – The Syracuse product was relatively unknown up until late into the draft process (to the casual fan anyway) before he shot into the first round as one of the more promising, athletic prospects in the class. He is a fine pass rusher who should be dynamic, even in the preseason. He is one to watch as the regular season gets underway as well.
Veteran to Watch: WR Brandon Lloyd – Lloyd is only 2 seasons removed from leading the league in receiving yards and now he has Tom Brady throwing the ball to him. This could be a match made in heaven. Do you remember how I mentioned watching the Pats offense move down the field with ease during the preseason? Lloyd will be an intricate part of that.
New York Jets
What to Watch: Tim Tebow – Isn’t it obvious? Whether you love him or hate him, he isn’t going away and now that he is in New York with QB Mark Sanchez, there will always be some level of controversy. Might as well watch it so you can make your own opinions of the guy, or jokes about his throwing motion.
Short Term Question: Where’s the pass rush? – They finished last season with 35 sacks which was tied for 17th in the league. With the rest of their defense being top-notch, rushing the passer is something that should be more of a given with the Jets (they finished behind St. Louis’ 39 sacks after all). They drafted DE Quinton Coples who should help.
Long Term Question: What about Tebow? – Personally, I think that Tebow is being blown out of proportion by the media, but despite that, every game that Sanchez doesn’t win or look good losing, there will be questions about Tebow taking over the starting spot. It’s bound to happen. So the question is when? And will Tebow actually pull off the same wins he did in Denver when/if he does?
Rookie to Watch: I already mentioned Quiton Coples who should be entertaining in the preseason. He has the pure athleticism to get to the quarterback with minimal NFL coaching. The rookie I want to see from the late rounds is the 7th round WR, Jordan White from Western Michigan. To me he seems like one of those players that will actually put up numbers during the preseason games. Sure, he may not make the final roster, but he should be entertaining when your attention is waning late into the 4th quarter.
Veteran to Watch: Let’s ignore Tebow for this one and focus on SS Laron Landry. If he can stay healthy, he is pretty solid safety who will definitely help New York in the back of their defense. He is thickly/strongly built and has speed. While he is currently rehabbing an injury. It could be fun to watch him play as we approach the regular season.