After one-quarter of play, the Patriots trail the Buccaneers 14-0 in their preseason contest. Passing along quick-hit observations from what we've seen so far:
1. Top three rookies starting: The top three members of the Patriots 2012 draft class, defensive end Chandler Jones, linebacker Dont'a Hightower, and safety Tavon Wilson all earned a starting nod as the Patriots took the field on Friday night. While Jones and Hightower seem like safe bets to maintain those starting roles as the regular season starts, Wilson projects to play a sub defense role with Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory entrenched in the starting safety spots. Nonetheless, the fact that all three were on the field in the unofficial dress rehearsal for the regular season can be viewed as a testament to the coaching staff's confidence in their ability to contribute right away.
2. Defense struggles on opening drive: The Patriots defense has been stout in the two previous preseason contests, but allowed the Bucs to march down the field on their opening drive. The interior run defense was superb, with Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork forming a twin tower duo that did well to stuff inside. But receiver Vincent Jackson had his way with the Patriots secondary, making catches down the field. Jackson has had previous success against the Patriots while with the Chargers.
3. McCourty, not Demps, fields first kick. Perhaps as a mild surprise, Devin McCourty was the deep man on the Patriots' opening kickoff return unit, not recently signed returner/running back Jeff Demps. This could be a matter of the Patriots just wanting to ease Demps in to his first NFL action, or also a chance for McCourty to showcase his ability as a deep returner. After mishandling the kick, McCourty was only able to generate a modest return. On the second return, it was McCourty's cornerback partner Kyle Arrington deep for the return.
4. Connolly back at center. Dan Connolly took over for Dan Koppen early in the 2011 season, and admirably filled in for the balance of the year. He's worked mostly at guard this preseason, but started Friday night at center. The starting offensive line, from left to right, was as follows: Nate Solder, Logan Mankins (making his preseason debut), Connolly, Donald Thomas, and Marcus Cannon.
5. Brady picked for six. On the Patriots' opening drive, they were stopped short for a three and out. They followed that up with a drive that resulted in a Mark Barron return of a Brady interception for a score. Protection was an issue on the drive, as Marcus Cannon was beaten clean for a sack that might leave Brady was soreness in his upper body tomorrow.
6. Penalty box: Linebacker Jerod Mayo was the only player flagged for a penalty, being called for a face mask penalty.