Later, rookie running back Kevin Harris snapped New England’s best streak of the preseason on a power play by a back from the gun. With left guard James Ferentz throwing, tight end Matt Sokol and right tackle Yodny Cdonde won their blocks while sixth-round pick Chasen Hines immediately worked up to the second level. Harris followed Ferentz’s successful tug, ran through an arm and nearly lodged it from 36 yards.
New England has tried to implement a heavier running game in the zone this summer, and it’s the kind of scheme where you have to accept some early struggles and hope it eventually takes hold. But it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see a game plan riddled with holes in Miami, with the Patriots acknowledging what works with their current staff along the offensive line.
3. Patriots start Jahlani Tavai at linebacker, but Raekwon McMillan shows his mettle
Fourth-year linebacker Jahlani Tavai continues to win preseason starts with the Patriots’ first-team defense. But it doesn’t look like it’s going to last long for Tavai, as veteran Raekwon McMillan’s game speed and outfield tackling ability are on a different level. McMillan prevented a big play with a screen pass to Raiders running back Brittain Brown, where Brown had room to operate. Limiting Brown to just seven yards on the play was another example of the much-needed athleticism that McMillan brings to the second level. He should see a lot of field this season.
4. Devin McCourty’s value to the Patriots secondary at an all-time high
Based on Friday night’s game, the Patriots trust the 35-year-old Devin McCourty now more than ever. As they always do to develop their depth, New England gave them safeties reps Kyle Dugger and Adrian Phillips to prepare them for emergencies. The auditions did not go well. First, Dugger bit hard on a play-action feint, allowing backup tight end Jesper Horsted to run past him for a 30-yard gain. Phillips then took the cheese on a crossover in the middle level, leaving Terrance Mitchell leveraged in a deep post pattern with no safety help. If the Patriots want to move McCourty more, or if the worst comes to the worst, whoever’s back there has to be more reliable.
5. What about Ty Montgomery’s ankle injury recovery now?
The worst nightmare for any team when playing key contributors in the preseason is injuries, and the Patriots suffered their first big loss of the summer when top receiver Ty Montgomery left Friday night’s game with an ankle injury. The injury appeared serious and comes after Montgomery was New England’s most consistent offensive weapon in joint practices this week. It is potentially a great loss. Where do they go from here? Expect to see Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson a lot in the passing game, especially early on, while rookie Pierre Strong could gain playing time in that role as the season goes on. If Montgomery’s injury ends the season, he could also open up a roster spot for JJ Taylor.
6. Rookie CB Jack Jones’s route recognition impresses on multiple plays
The further we get into the summer, the more fourth-round pick Jack Jones flies. Jones has a ball-hunting mentality and flirts with being too aggressive at times, but his knowledge of the course and his ability to recognize route combinations are impressive. He constantly makes excellent reads out of cover to pass routes and lock onto the intended target. In addition, his closing burst from outside the man allows him to dislodge the ball with a physical finish. A top three of Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant is a sure thing for Week 1. But Jones could push for playing time if he continues to make progress in practice. The Pats need more playmakers like him there.
7. Rookies Pierre Strong and Marcus Jones involved in return game
With the two rookies trailing the veterans on their respective sides of the ball, the Patriots gave third-round pick Marcus Jones and fourth-round pick Pierre Strong chances in the return game. Jones, an All-American returner in college, showed off his skills with a 17-yard punt return in the first half. Strong didn’t get a chance to get the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs, but it’s a good way to get his 4.37 speed down the field. Strong has yet to play at his clocked speed on offense, so we may see him in a comeback here soon if they trust him there.
8. Patriots Backup Interior O-Linemen Dark Horses to make the 53-man roster?
When the Patriots handed things over to backups, two interior offensive linemen who caught the eye were second-year T/G Will Sherman and sixth-round pick Chasen Hines. Sherman has the versatility to play guard or tackle and consistently left his man in the outside zone. If the Pats stick to zone schemes, Sherman’s foot speed to execute range blocks would be a good fit. As for Hines, he is an explosive run blocker and showed good pass protection knowledge. Hines’ athleticism and power in the running game are reminiscent of a young Shaq Mason. Yeah, that’s high praise, so let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. But Hines generates a lot of power in the running game.