- Mike Reiss, ESPN Staff Writer
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Good start for the top offense. The Patriots’ top offense couldn’t have had a much better night. Quarterback Tom Brady played 16 snaps, and on the first play from scrimmage, out of a two-tight end set with Jake Ballard and Zach Sudfeld, running back Stevan Ridley burst up the middle for a 62-yard gain. It was a tone-setter, as the Patriots ran on every play of their six-play opening touchdown march. On the second drive, which resulted in another touchdown, Brady was impressive through the air, with running back Shane Vereen's touchdown catch in the back left-hand corner of the end zone a beauty to cap it off. New faces, same explosive results. The second unit came on after the first two series.
Early entrance for Tebow: The plan wasn't for third-string quarterback Tim Tebow to come into the game late in the second quarter, but when top backup Ryan Mallett was knocked out with a head injury, Tebow entered with 1:22 remaining in the first half. He played the rest of the game, leading one touchdown drive, with the Patriots unveiling an offense with read-option concepts. That’s been one of the interesting parts of watching Tebow in practice, as he hasn’t always been running the traditional Patriots offense; Brady and Mallett would almost never run a read-option offense. The Patriots could see value in that from a scout-team perspective, as they’ll see it this season from foes, which is a reminder that when judging Tebow’s performance, it should be done outside the realm of the traditional Patriots attack.
Top defense with shades of '12 performance: The Patriots’ top defense played three series for a total of 11 snaps. Things started somewhat similarly to what we saw last season from the unit, with the Eagles attacking early and scoring on a 47-yard long-bomb touchdown from Michael Vick to DeSean Jackson. Cornerback Aqib Talib was in coverage. But the unit then forced a punt before defensive tackle Tommy Kelly and defensive end Chandler Jones combined on a strip sack recovered for a turnover. So, some ups and downs for the top group. The big takeaway: Kelly looks like the surefire starter next to Vince Wilfork at defensive tackle and could be an upgrade over last season’s tandem of Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick.
Blount makes his case for RB spot: If there was one player who might not have been considered a roster lock who most improved his standing, running back LeGarrette Blount is a good choice. The 6-foot, 250-pound bruiser had a highlght-reel, zig-zagging 51-yard touchdown run against the Eagles' second-unit defense in the second quarter. Ridley was the Patriots' lead back, and projects to that role during the regular season, but Blount made a case to be a strong No. 2 option. The first-half running back snaps broke down this way: Vereen 16, Ridley 15, Leon Washington seven, Blount five, Brandon Bolden two. The Patriots could keep all five on the final roster given the special-teams value that Washington and Bolden provide.
Injury updates: Outside of Mallett, the Patriots' second-string quarterback who left late in the second quarter with a head injury and didn't return, there were no major injuries for the Patriots. Mallett watched the rest of the second half from the sideline.
Learning experience a good one for young pass-catchers: The Patriots played 46 offensive snaps in the first half, and with rookie receiver Aaron Dobson in for 26 of them and rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld ion for 22, it was a reminder how important the preseason is for players like them. The Patriots, as they have in training camp, threw them right into the mix. Sudfeld will score points for some nice hustle on Blount's 51-yard touchdown to help him earn his last 10 yards with a final block. Rookie receivers Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins (four catches in 1st half) also played a lot. Some valuable tape for them to study.
Quick hits: It was a meaningful night for Ballard, who missed all of 2012 after undergoing serious knee surgery, as he played 12 of the first 16 snaps before his night was over. He might be the team's best blocking tight end outside of Rob Gronkowski. On defense, top draft pick Jamie Collins didn't play with the first unit. He was a weakside linebacker on the second-unit. The Patriots had 16 players who didn't suit up. Defensive end Marcus Benard was used as the first defensive end in sub packages, often rushing from an interior position. He's an under-the-radar player to watch in the weeks to come.