The New England Patriots’ dress rehearsal against the Carolina Panthers went well, at least when it comes to the result. Injuries and sloppy play by the second stringers hurt the team, however. That being said, some of the Patriots’ players delivered noteworthy performances along the way— for better or for worse. Let’s take a look at some of them, without the benefit of a film review of course.
Winner: The starting defense
While individual players could get pointed out, the dominating performance performance in the first half was really a case of perfectly executed team defense. Up front, the group created considerable pressure with its linemen and linebackers. In the secondary, meanwhile, receivers were covered tightly. Add it up and you get an impressive outing against Cam Newton and company: New England’s starting defense surrendered just 29 yards in the first half, while also registering three sacks.
Winner: RB Sony Michel
After undergoing a knee arthroscopy during the offseason, Sony Michel was forced to miss a large portion of spring workouts and open training camp on the physically unable to perform list. In his first game this preseason, however, the second-year man did not show any rust: he attacked the holes hard and was quick in his open-field cuts. While his numbers do not necessarily stand out — Michel carried the football 10 times for 36 yards — it was an encouraging 2019 debut for the 24-year-old.
Loser: WR Jakobi Meyers
Jakob Meyers is the biggest surprise of the Patriots’ training camp and can be considered a near-lock to make the team. On Thursday, however, he struggled when playing with the first-team defense. He read the defense differently than quarterback Tom Brady and ran a wrong route on a deep passing attempt; he failed to haul in a pass over the middle that was catchable despite being slightly behind the receiver; he had a (rather soft) penalty negating a 30-yard run; he finished his day with Brady with zero catches. While Meyers looked good with the second stringers, his performance with the first-team offense left a lot to be desired.
Winner: WR Phillip Dorsett III
While Meyers struggled while working with Brady, Phillip Dorsett looked tremendous. Catching all five of his targets from New England’s starting quarterback for a combined 41 yards — he had seven catches for 47 yards in total — the 26-year-old provided Brady with a reliable weapon in the intermediate passing game. Dorsett is no lock to make the team as a rotational receiver, but yesterday’s performance in comparison with the other wideouts appears to reflect his status on the team: he will likely make it.
Winner: WR Gunner Olszewski
With Braxton Berrios missing the game, Gunner Olszewski saw considerable action as the Patriots’ returnman. While he did not get a chance to run one of Carolina’s two kickoffs back, he did return four punts and looked good while doing so. After inexplicably fair-catching his first try, he averaged 15.8 yards over his next four runbacks. While this does not secure him a roster spot, the undrafted rookie did state his case as a viable option on special teams. While did later leave the game with a head injury, he is expected to be available next week.
Loser: OG Hjalte Froholdt
New England has one of the league’s better backup interior offensive linemen in Ted Karras, so Hjalte Froholdt’s performance is no cause for concern just yet. That being said, the fourth-round draft pick continued to struggle. He was responsible for two sacks on the night, and also had another holding penalty. Froholdt does have plenty of promise and is likely a lock to make the team, but at this point he remains a raw developmental option.
Winner: P Jake Bailey
In his first game after being named the Patriots’ punter, Jake Bailey looked good doing just that. He was called upon to kick the football four times and had a gross average of 48.0 yards per kick. The net — reflecting his ability to put plenty of hang-time on his high, arching punts — was just 1.2 yards shorter at 46.8. Bailey also continued to do what he did all summer long, which is place the football well and show considerable directional kicking skills.
Loser: H Jake Bailey
As good as Jake Bailey the punter looked like, Jake Bailey the holder was responsible for a field goal miss in the late third quarter. Attempting a 43-yarder, Stephen Gostkowski’s kick sailed wide to the left. At first glance, it looked like another shank by the veteran but a closer looks revealed that it was actually Bailey’s fault: he was unable to place the football correctly after the snap, leading to Gostkowski hitting the laces.
Loser: DT Mike Pennel
Mike Pennel came to New England with plenty of promise: the free agency acquisition had a very good 2018 season with the New York Jets and appeared to be an immediate upgrade over Danny Shelton as the big defensive tackle. So far, however, Shelton seems to be firmly ahead of him on the depth chart with rookie Byron Cowart also playing more starter-level snaps. Pennel was used deep into the fourth quarter on Thursday, which could be seen as a sign of things to come.
Winner: The starting offensive line
Ahead of Thursday’s game, we identified six things to keep an eye on and one of them was the offensive line’s chemistry with first-year starter Isaiah Wynn in the lineup. Needless to say that there do not appear to be any growing pains: with the exception of one botched block on a screen pass early on, Wynn looked very good during the game. The rest of the offensive linemen followed suit; the unit will again be one of the strongest on the Patriots’ roster — at least at the starting positions.