Quick-hit thoughts around the NFL and with the New England Patriots:
1. Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo’s debut in the Patriots’ preseason opener was widely praised; his quick release and long-ball touch two areas most noted. But there was something else that might be more important, and it came on running back Stephen Houston’s fumble when Garoppolo darted into a scrum as others were standing around and relentlessly threw himself into the pile in hopes of recovering the football. Usually you don’t want your quarterback vulnerable to injury in a pile of 300-pounds-plus linemen, but this is a rare situation that I think is an exception. When players and coaches review the film and see a rookie at that position making that type of effort and being ripped out of the pile by opponents, it can only yield one reaction: Instant respect. Playing quarterback in the NFL requires so many different things, and one of them is leading in a way that makes others want to follow them; Garoppolo’s presence has stood out to me in that regard, with Thursday night’s effort further reinforcing it.
2. When it comes to the Patriots’ other backup, Ryan Mallett, I’d be surprised if he’s not on the roster this year as the No. 2 given the importance of the position and steep learning curve for a rookie like Garoppolo. The club has already proven it is comfortable carrying three quarterbacks, as it most recently did in 2011 with Tom Brady, Brian Hoyer and Mallett (then a rookie). Two other Mallett thoughts: I have doubts that there has been any reasonable trade interest from other NFL teams despite consistent media reports, and the presence noted above with Garoppolo is one area in which I think Mallett still needs improvement.
3. One of my biggest takeaways from Patriots-Redskins joint practices was surprise that Robert Griffin III didn’t look like the best quarterback on his own team. In fact, I thought Kirk Cousins was better than him, from the perspective of running the offense, fine-tuned mechanics and how decisively the ball came out of his hand. I wondered if I was alone, and then heard the same sentiment echoed by some others in the Patriots organization.
4. The Patriots might be laying the groundwork to entice Darrelle Revis to sign a long-term deal by building a strong personal connection with him and others close to him, but there have been no bottom-line negotiations. Patriots president Jonathan Kraft, on his weekly pregame interview on 98.5 The Sports Hub, said: “We have to see how the year goes, but obviously, he’s a player that you’re going to want to have on your football team. We’re going to start the 2014 season here and we have a lot to do before that starts. We’ll worry about the future as we get into the season.” In the end, money will likely matter most, but if the financial numbers are close, every day Revis has a positive experience in New England is a strong sales pitch.
5. In making a list of Patriots players who need to step up, receiver Josh Boyce would be near the top. Boyce inexplicably lined up offside to negate a third-down conversion in the preseason opener, which is the type of mental mistake that most irritates Bill Belichick. On top of that, Boyce’s effort as a run blocker looks like it could use a spark, as there was one play that looked like a half-effort. When I think of part of what has defined Patriots receivers of late, the willingness to get feisty downfield and on crack blocks is part of the identity. I’m curious to see how Boyce, a 2013 fourth-round pick, responds this week.
6. Second-year Washington tight end Jordan Reed was one player I wanted to learn more about after joint practices. I thought he was one of the best offensive players on the field, at one point catching a sideline out between Revis and safety Devin McCourty. Reed has a concussion history that reminds me a little bit of former Colts and Patriots receiver Austin Collie, so there’s always that concern about his health and availability, but his talent is hard to miss.
7. The Eagles come to town this week for joint practices Tuesday and Wednesday, and officials will also be on hand to work the practices. That’s probably a good thing, because if Eagles cornerback Cary Williams is on the field, things could get feisty. While the goal is for the Patriots and Eagles to get better, the Williams subplot – both from his past actions and recent remarks -- is hard to ignore.
8. Those curious about the significance of the four-game suspension for Dolphins safety Reshad Jones, as it relates to the season-opener against the Patriots, need only to review this video. Jones rates as one of the NFL’s more underrated safeties and the Patriots are one of the last teams any opponent wants to be shorthanded in the secondary against. Another blow for the Dolphins, who will already be without 2013 first-round pick Dion Jordan (suspension) and top center Mike Pouncey (injury).
9. Media relations between players and reporters can be prickly, and if the roles were reversed, I’m sure there would be times that my frustrations would boil over. With that in mind, I was always impressed with former Patriots safety Steve Gregory. His play wasn’t always praiseworthy, but Gregory always held himself accountable and consistently treated the not-always-deserving press with respect. Gregory, who had signed with the Chiefs on July 31, retired on Saturday and wants to go into coaching. I wish him the best.
10. The Patriots are hoping for big things from second-year receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) and 2014 first-round draft choice Dominique Easley (knee), but both remain on the physically unable to perform list. I think the key marker in determining if they will be ready for the season-opener comes in about a week. If they are still on PUP at that point, it would be a disappointment for the club and time to alter expectations on them helping in Week 1.