Patriots receivers still have a long way to go.
Reggie Wayne saw, and dropped, on target, while Aaron Dobson let a big reception go through his fingers and into the hands of a Panthers defender. Chris Harper isn't reading defenses the way the quarterbacks are expecting, and Danny Amendola had a quiet evening. With Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell on the sidelines, the hope was for Tom Brady to develop a rapport with these depth receivers, but it's clear they still have a ways to go.
The offensive line is still trying to figure itself out as Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson have obvious flaws.
While missing center Bryan Stork is a clear issue for the line as replacement David Andrews isn't starting caliber, the play of Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson should be slightly more concerning. While both flash great ability, they are both expected to start. They need better consistency. Mason, at left guard, is still developing as a pass blocker and there are times where he loses leverage- and the fact that he's losing leverage while being so much shorter than the defenders is a point of concern. Jackson needs to improve his footwork because he's allowing defenders to blow-up the play when Jackson is expected to block across the formation. There's a lot to work on and, unlike at center, there isn't really a better option.
Scott Chandler will be a fun red zone piece.
While Rob Gronkowski sat out the game, fellow tight end Scott Chandler made his first appearance and he made the most of it. His size was clearly an issue for the Panthers defenders and he showed a certain quickness and separation that is impressive for his size. When he and Gronk are on the field at the same time, opposing defenses are really going to struggle to find the players to cover them.
Tarell Brown and Bradley Fletcher look to join Malcom Butler as the starting cornerbacks.
All three defenders made impressive drives on the ball to swat them away from the receiver. Fletcher doesn't have the same versatility as Brown and looks to be a purely outside receiver, but Brown and Butler are the likely starting two cornerbacks, with one of them kicking inside in the nickel to allow Fletcher on the field. They aren't Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, but they're good enough to make a few plays and force opposing quarterbacks to hold on to the ball for the defensive line to cause problems.
The defensive line is going to be a lot of fun to watch.
Not only did Dominique Easley show up, and rookie Malcom Brown, but the Patriots threw a wrinkle with edge defenders Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones, and Jabaal Sheard all on the field at the same time. It's a modified 3-4 defense, with Jones technically aligning at 3-4 defensive end, but it's more of a 4-3 front with Ninkovich as a roving joke, aligning to the outside of the formation. Ninkovich has some ability dropping into coverage, so he's able to pass rush or drop into coverage whenever needed.
Jerod Mayo is BACK.
In possibly the best news of the evening, captain linebacker Jerod Mayo returned to the line-up and he was a true force. While there needs to be more time for him to get back into football shape, he was making plays all over the field and doesn't appear to be greatly affected by his multiple injuries. Mayo, Jamie Collins, and Dont'a Hightower all took the field (with Hightower aligning with James Morris), meaning the Patriots are expecting their top linebackers to all be available for the season's opening week.