With six games down in the first preseason week of the NFL and ten remaining ones, there’s plenty to be watching for in this weekend’s games. Here are some of the bigger things that begin taking shape this tonight:
Jets @ Bengals, 7:30 pm – How will the Sanchez/Tebow drama unfold and is there a controversy? Their respective play tonight should begin to quell the “Tebow for starter” crowd unless Sanchez performs horribly and Tebow shows things he has yet to show. Ever. Also of interest is Jets’ rookie Stephen Hill. He’s a Megatron-like physical specimen, from the same college (Georgia Tech) as Calvin Johnson, but comes into the NFL very raw. Look for Jets OC Tony Sparano to try at least one deep ball to him, probably on a second-and-short or something in order to gain as favorable a matchup in the defensive play calling as possible. On the Bengals’ side, the “punk’d” WR Mohammed Sanu starts his attempt at becoming QB Andy Dalton’s #2 option at WR…after A.J. Green.
Browns @ Lions, 7:30 pm – Probably this is Brandon Weeden’s weakest opponent of the preseason…at least as far as their secondary goes. Louis Delmas is out indefinitely and the Lions have very little talent at corner. With the injury to Trent Richardson, look for the Browns to check out their “other new toy” more in the passing game while Richardson’s fellow RBs get a good look as coaches scramble in worry over Richardson’s return timeline. The Lions’ concerns lie more with their aforementioned pass coverage so look for ANYONE that might stand out there. They are in dire need now of playmakers.
Giants @ Jaguars, 7:30 pm – All eyes should be on 2nd-yr QB Blaine Gabbert of the Jags. He was dead last in just about every NFL passing category last season and looked completely lost most of the time. The result? The Jags signed Miami Dolphin cast-off QB Chad Henne. I think if Henne outplays Gabbert in the preseason, it’ll be very, very difficult for Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach Mike Mularkey to start Gabbert. This is by far the biggest issue of any position battle on their squad and Gabbert really needs to start showing some street magic that he has yet to offer in his short career. We need to watch how the Giants’ run defense holds up the middle as they’ve done some retooling of their surprisingly soft, gushy middle from last season. Now, we start seeing if it holds. We know they can bring the heat on the QB as well as anyone.
Buccaneers @ Dolphins, 7:30 pm – This game showcases the two most-changed teams of any week-one preseason matchup. Tampa Bay’s offense AND defense bear watching since they were the most active NFL team during free agency in the offseason. The most obvious things to watch will be how Josh Freeman and Vincent Jackson have developed chemistry…or if they haven’t. Early preseason matchups usually feature second and third stringers along with some rookies so they won’t be on the field for all that long, but watch and see how many targets he gets when they are. Both teams have first-year NFL Head Coaches, so it should be interesting from start to finish. Watch out for Bucs’ rookie LB LaVonte David, who is already making some noise in camp. The organization gave new Head Coach Greg Schiano as much of a boost as possible; now it’s his turn to show how he can mold them. As for the Dolphins, David Garrard needs to prove he can take hits after missing the entire 2011 season with a back injury. RB Lamar Miller has tons of talent and should be worth watching. Most of all to watch would be rookie Ryan Tannehill, who came into camp several days late due to contract issues, but has wowed the coaching staff since day one. Also, watch the pace and style of Miami’s offense…while I don’t think Joe Philbin will lay many cards on the table in week one of the preseason, we should get an idea of the personality they want to have on offense. It’ll be radically different from the 1960′s-style ground-and-pound that former Miami Head Coach Tony Sparano favored. Of the games tonight, this is the one to watch or listen to because of all the changes both organizations have undergone since last season and the heated QB position battle in Miami.
Cardinals @ Chiefs, 8:00 pm – John Skelton is going to wind up being the starter in Arizona whether it’s due to better play than Kevin Kolb or because Kolb stubs his toe, falls down and breaks his collarbone walking through the tunnel before the game. Kolb needs to wear the red practice jersey every time he steps on the field, but I’m sure there are rules about that…(wink). The biggest thing will be how far along is rookie WR Michael Floyd, and will he deliver enough to help take some double-teams off of All-World WR Larry Fitzgerald? The Chiefs’ questions at this point are more sober…with a number of skill position players coming off IR from last season, this should help evaluate their recovery progress. If I had one player to watch with the Chiefs, it would be how Dontari Poe plays. He was the talk of the Combine earlier this year, but underachieved at a small college. He is probably going to wind up the poster child in the “tape vs. upside” discussion for his 2012 performance, fairly or unfairly.
Vikings @ 49ers, 9:00 pm – Boy, if there ever was a game of the “haves” vs. the “have-nots,” this matchup is the one. The Vikings are entering the second season of their rebuilding phase and currently do so without their big star, Adrian Peterson. Even if Peterson were unquestionably 100% recovered from his ACL tear from week 17 last season, he wouldn’t be playing much in any of the preseason games in the first place, so that’s not the issue some think it is. The Vikings need to evaluate the progress of second-year QB Christian Ponder and how well #4 overall pick and Carolina Panthers’ center Ryan Kalil’s brother Mike is picking up the nuances of playing the left tackle. They also have similar issues that the Lions do in the secondary, so someone needs to step up and this is the time to start. The Niners’ main concern is evaluating all the new bodies they picked up at WR after having a massive 3 yards passing to the WR corps in their NFC Championship Game loss to the Giants last season. However, keep in mind the quality of the Vikings’ secondary while you do. RB Frank Gore may have peaked his career by now and they’re looking to see who can take a share of carries and the load off the guy.
Topics: Arizona Cardinals, Blaine Gabbert, Brandon Weeden, Calvin Johnson, Chad Henne, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, David Garrard, Detroit Lions, Dontari Poe, Greg Sc, Greg Schiano, Jacksonville Jaguars, Joe Philbin, John Skelton, Josh Freeman, Kansas City Chiefs, Kevin Kolb, Lamar Miller, Larry Fitzgerald, Lavonte David, Louis Delmas, Megatron, Miami Dolphins, Michael Floyd, Minnesota Vikings, Mohamed Sanu, New York Giants, New York Jets, Ryan Kalil, Ryan Tannehill, San Francisco 49ers, Stephen Hill, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tony Sparano, Trent Richardson, Vincent Jackson