A few personnel notes from New England's Thursday win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Pats celebrated a home beatdown, trumping Jacksonville, 47-12.
New England Patriots
Mallett hits a new level
Having watched a lot of tape of Ryan Mallett at Arkansas, I didn't expect to see him moving as well as he did in his first NFL game. He looked much quicker with a good bounce with his backstep out from under center, rolled into playfakes, and was very comfortable with three- and seven-step drops. He's still a balkier thrower under pressure than I would like, but I saw some intriguing improvements in this game. Everyone knows that Mallett has an amazing arm — if he can put the little things together that I had put past him coming out of Arkansas, the Patriots could be in line to prove a lot of people wrong. As he played in the second half, we'll see what happens when he's going up against better players and more complex defenses.
Solder gets the little things right
Left tackle Nate Solder was another work in progress in school — the former Colorado tight end is still learning the nuances of the tackle position, and he's looked pretty iffy at times, especially when dealing with back-end pressure. But against the Jaguars, I saw a player more consistent with his power moves off the line, kick-stepping back with aplomb and burying defenders with well-times and well-executed cut blocks. Solder also got out left in coordinated slide protections, using his agility and strength to wall off linebackers at the second level in outside running plays; he's also very quick and agile on tackle pulls. He's still getting his technique together in straight dropback pass-protection (too awkward when making the turn with the pass rusher on the "dip and rip", but I like what I saw in other areas. With little time to get Solder's technique together to face an NFL defense, the Patriots show once again the rewards of a true focus on technique and fundamentals.
New England's 4-3 conversion a mirage?
As expected to anyone who knows Bill Belichick's history of multiple and varied fronts, the talk about the Pats moving to a true 4-3 seems overblown — it's just that, in players like Albert Haynesworth and Mark Anderson, they've taken on players better-suited to those fronts. But as much as the Patriots used fronts with four down linemen, they also bring different blitz packages and use fronts with three down linemen and a standup Leo/Elephant end. The real effectiveness comes from the ability to stunt and twist and bring different kinds of pressure inside. We'll be looking at how specific responsibilities work in Belichick's fronts through the preseason and regular season, but for now, assume that the alleged 4-3 move is actually a case of "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."
Gabbert Gabbert Hey!
When looking at tape of the 2011 draft class, I thought that Missouri's Blaine Gabbert was the best of a flawed group of quarterbacks. He doesn't have a rocket arm, but I liked the way he could fit throws in tight windows using timing and movement. Against New England's defense, Gabbert had his moments … but just as often, he would be caught using too much escapability to avoid keeping his eyes downfield and trying to extend the play. However, his feel with play- and boot-action showed up full bore — he sometimes sells the playfake too quickly, but he's great at getting a good backdrop going, bouncing off his back foot, and stepping into the throw. No issues with core fundamentals in that sense; just some timing and awareness issues that need to be worked out over time.
Poz looks good in new home
New middle linebacker Paul Posluszny should be a big asset for the Jags — I really like the way he sifts through blockers and keeps the play in front of him. He'll obviously get blocked out at times, but he's rarely faked out of position and he's great at sealing one sideline or the other to facilitate other tacklers making plays. I'm not convinced that he has intermediate coverage ability, but the Jags have other linebackers for that.
Cal's Alualu is one to watch
Last season when I watched the Jags' defense, it was often to look at tackle Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton, who may be the most underrated in the league at his position. In this game, I wanted to get a better look at former Cal DT Tyson Alualu (after all, it is Mike Silver's birthday; might as well scout a Golden Bear!) … and boy, did I come away impressed. Alualu has unbelievable side-to-side speed for a guy his size, and he can peel off a blocker with great quickness to help stop a play to either sideline or upfield. Bigger blockers can stand him up at times, but he's relentless after the block — he'll keep pushing and trying to get around. As much as he's good as a three-tech right on the line, I like him even more when he's lined up back about a foot in the "flex fronts" Tom Landry invented. When he has that extra step to get up to speed and can add rip and swim moves, Alualu is a tough man to stop.