Scout NFL Roundtable: Preseason Openers

Fifteen of our Scout NFL team experts share the most interesting observation they each took away about their respective teams after watching their preseason openers. Check it out...

Tim Yotter,
Minnesota Vikings

Without question, second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson was a pleasant surprise. Jackson is expected to be the team's starter in 2007 with only two games of starting experience from last year. While he sometimes looked shaky and indecisive in practices during the offseason, Jackson in the preseason opener was quick and decisive – and accurate – in the three series he played against the St. Louis Rams. He connected on 8 of 11 passes for 83 yards, avoided costly turnovers and added two rushes for 25 yards, one a designed bootleg and another a spur-of-the-moment scramble. If he can continue to build on that performance, he can put the doubters behind him at some point this season.

Denis Savage,
Oakland Raiders

The decision-making. With Lane Kiffin's first game as a head coach, he played both ends of the spectrum in terms of tactics that raised an eyebrow.

With first-and-goal from the one-yard line, Kiffin went to Dominic Rhodes to carry the ball across the goal line, the same player that will miss the first four games of the season. Why not go with a player that will actually help when the season comes around in a similar situation? The next touchdown - a designed play for Mike
Williams who hauled it in - was a smart maneuver. Get the kid some confidence. His height in the red zone could be a huge advantage for the offense.

Jon Scott,
New England Patriots

Ty Warren (AP Photo)
The preseason opener against the Buccaneers went much the way I anticipated with the starters leaving the game early, while injured players – including Randy Moss, Richard Seymour and others – didn't bother to suit up for the game. With the limited appearance of the first string, it was the defensive line play that I found to be of most interest.

Without starters Seymour and Ty Warren, the Patriots defensive line struggled to control Tampa Bay's running backs throughout the game. After initially holding the Bucs to a pair of three-and-outs, the defense showed weakness against the run. Rookie Kenneth Darby ran almost at will for a game-high 84 yards on 15 carries (5.6 avg.). The Tampa offense averaged 4.6 yards per carry and used their rushing attack to control the clock on the final game-winning drive.

New England has struggled to find quality backups on the defensive line, and it appears they may still need to address the situation even after adding a pair of draft picks and a pair of free agents to the unit this year.

Charlie Bernstein,
Jacksonville Jaguars

The most interesting thing I took away from the Jaguars preseason opener was the improved play of the Jaguars wide receivers. Throughout most of last season, they struggled to get open quickly and consistently, which caused the quarterbacks to take some unnecessary hits.

On Saturday evening, rookies Mike Walker and John Broussard found themselves wide open a lot, as well as Reggie Williams, Ernest Wilford, and even Matt Jones. If the Jaguars' offensive line play had been a little better, they would have had even more big plays in that game. Overall, there was clear improvement at the wide receiver position from last season.

Stan Jones,
Tennessee Titans

The biggest surprise from the first preseason game for the Titans was the suspension of quarterback Vince Young by head coach Jeff Fisher. After several years of questionable behavior displayed by players on and off the field, Fisher sent a message to his young squad with the suspension of Young for a violation of team rules -- an apparent curfew violation by Young on Friday night when he apparently decided to spend the night at home instead of the team hotel.

As a result, the Titans offense was placed in the hands of veteran backup Kerry Collins who led a very sloppy, disconnected attack in their first loss of the season. 

Nate Caminata,
Detroit Lions

Calvin Johnson (AP Photo)
If Rod Marinelli had narrowed his "What I Want to See" list to two items in his team's exhibition opener against Cincinnati, it is likely that the second-year head coach witnessed both. Although Detroit's first-team offense wasn't exactly spectacular (which can be blamed on a watered down game plan and the fact they played less than a quarter), the team's come-from-behind, 27-26 victory reflected Marinelli's "team" philosophy.

But while the Lions certainly seemed more cohesive as a complete unit than the Bengals, rookie Calvin Johnson's impact drew the smiles.

It wasn't necessarily the two nice catches that the No. 2 overall pick secured. Instead, it was his presence during receiver Shaun McDonald's 83-yard touchdown grab. While the Bengals were concerned with Johnson's whereabouts, McDonald had enough time to guess the mathematical coordinates of reserve quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan's lengthy heave.

The buzz in Detroit wasn't necessarily in regards to the win, yet what the offense will accomplish with Johnson, Roy Williams and Mike Furrey on the field.

Aaron Wilson,
Baltimore Ravens

Rookie linebackers Antwan Barnes and Prescott Burgess combined for eight tackles, two sacks and three quarterback hits in the Ravens' 29-3 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. Their instincts and hitting ability opened eyes, and Barnes leveled unsuspecting Eagles punter Sav Rocca with a block that separated him from his helmet.

Ken Palmer,
New York Giants

The Giants have a running game! The Giants have a running game! A year after the retirement of the franchise's all-time leading rusher, Tiki Barber, the Giants responded in their preseason opener with a very impressive ground-game display. It was by far the most noteworthy development as New York kicked-off its exhibition slate. 

The combination of new starter Brandon Jacobs, Reuben Droughns, Derrick Ward, Ryan Grant, rookie Ahmad Bradshaw, and fullback Robert Douglas combined for 124 rushing yards and another 64 receiving yards as New York's first Barber-less offense showed itself extremely well in the club's 24-21 loss to Carolina.

John Crist,
Chicago Bears

Rex Grossman (AP Photo)
The Bears have always been and will always be a running football team, but the passing offense looked better than expected on Saturday night in Houston against the Texans.

Starter Rex Grossman only played the first two series, but he completed his first eight passes and finished the night 8-of-10 for 50 yards. Backup Brian Griese had his first throw intercepted, yet he rebounded strong and ended up 6-of-7 for 72 yards and a touchdown. Third-stringer Kyle Orton got the majority of the snaps, hitting on 16-of-25 for 151 yards and a score.

It's always dangerous to read too much into what happens on the field in preseason games, but Bears fans have every reason to be excited since all three quarterbacks played well and 17 different receivers caught a pass.

Todd Korth,
Green Bay Packers

First-round pick Justin Harrell showed signs of turning the corner in Green Bay's preseason opener at Pittsburgh. Harrell, who hasn't practiced in pads since rupturing his biceps last September in a game while playing for Tennessee, struggled with conditioning during the first two weeks of training camp. He had trouble mounting any kind of rush in part because of fatigue but also from a lack of moves. 

On Saturday night, Harrell finished with a sack against the Steelers and a tackle while playing with the third-string defense -- a big step. He also showed an ability to pressure the quarterback at times in the game.

Doug Farrar,
Seattle Seahawks

Left guard Rob Sims' performance in Seattle's 24-16 win over the Chargers was less a surprise and more a confirmation of what people saw from him late in his rookie season of 2006, when he started the last three regular-season games and two playoff games next to Walter Jones. Seattle's first-team line only went the first series, but they trucked down the field for a touchdown against the Chargers' front seven and Sims had a lot to do with it. Not only did his fine blocking at the point allow Jones to fan out more to protect Matt Hasselbeck's blind side, but he caught a deflected pass and rumbled 16 yards.

After a down year in 2006, Seattle's offensive line appears ready for a rebound, and Sims will be a big part of that.

Michael Lombardo,
San Diego Chargers

Vincent Jackson (AP Photo)
A lot of players did a lot of good things in the opener, but one who had a horrible game stood out the most. Vincent Jackson is the going to be the crux of the offense. If he plays like he did down the stretch last season (14 receptions, 286 yards and three touchdowns over the final five games), the Chargers will repeat as the league's highest scoring team. If he plays like he did in the preseason opener, where he fumbled away his only reception and was called for a costly holding penalty, the passing game will suffer.

The Chargers' two best receivers, Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson, do most of their damage between the hashes. Although both are supremely effective, they let defenses off the hook by not attacking the entire field. Jackson is the only player on the roster with the health, talent and experience necessary to excel as an outside threat. The Bolts are banking on him doing exactly that.

Steve Waters,
Denver Broncos

It wasn't so much what happened on the field as the Denver Broncos beat the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football, 17-13, but who didn't even make the trip to the Bay Area.

Defensive tackle Gerard Warren stayed at home amid confirmed reports that he is on the trading block. Warren was acquired a couple of seasons ago from Cleveland and has been the mainstay of the defensive line making 49 tackles and 5-1/2 sacks. He was acquired in a trade with the Browns and quickly became the most important cog in the defensive line.

Warren apparently doesn't fit into new defensive coordinator Jim Bates' philosophy and became expendable when the Broncos acquired a couple of defensive linemen during the offseason and drafted three more. It was a shock to many, however, when Warren was left at home for the preseason opener.

Alain Poupart,
Miami Dolphins

Trent Green (AP Photo)
With the exception of left tackle Vernon Carey, who sustained a minor knee injury in the first quarter, every other first-team offensive lineman played the entire first half and the results were disastrous. Quarterback Trent Green was under constant pressure, and that played a big role in him being only 6-for-15 for 60 yards. And running back Ronnie Brown was held to 8 yards on eight attempts.

Coach Cam Cameron has said throughout training camp that the Dolphins are doing a lot of mixing and matching up front to find the right combination, so it's possible the unit that started against the Jaguars won't be the same one that will open up Sept. 9th at Washington. At this point, we can only hope so because the line appears mismatched. And it wasn't just rookies Drew Mormino at left guard and Samson Satele at center who got handled by Jacksonville. It was all five linemen getting badly beaten on a play or committing a penalty.

The line does figure to get better at some point, but in the preseason opener it was not even close to being respectable.

Craig Massei,
San Francisco 49ers

There are a lot of people out there who don't believe quarterback Alex Smith will ever become a difference-maker, but I'm not so sure that's the case anymore. 

For someone who has watched Smith's development virtually every day for six months each year since he was drafted with the No. 1 overall selection in the 2005 draft, I detected more than just a subtle change in his game demeanor during San Francisco's preseason opener.

The kid looks in his element now, something you couldn't say very often the past two years when Smith was the youngest starting QB in the league. There was just something different about his presence, and it was easily recognizable.

Smith looked poised and confident and made some outstanding downfield throws when the first units were in the game, leading San Francisco on scoring drives both possessions he played. And he did it without Pro Bowl halfback Frank Gore (broken hand) behind him, indicating he's ready to take more of the offensive load upon himself during the 49ers' anticipated 2007 playoff run.


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