We all know the third week of the preseason is the least important week of August, right? I didn’t hear a single announcer this week talk about a dress rehearsal or even a dress recital, so this week didn’t seem any different. All I saw was Cam Newton getting more time on the field to look woefully average.
Actually, I saw more than that. Would you like to read about what I saw?
It still looks like Cam Newton will develop slowly, sprinkling in impressive feats of athleticism. Last week in this space we noted that Newton has been average so far during this preseason, but that will probably be good enough to keep Jimmy Clausen’s feeble challenge down. Expecting that observation to change in one week is foolish, but some semblance of accuracy and pocket stability from Newton would have been a welcome sight this week against Cincinnati.
We received neither. Newton’s 16-yard touchdown run was impressive, and it showed the kind of athleticism he regularly displayed at Auburn. But no one’s doubting his ability to see and capitalize on an open running lane. The doubts lie in his talent to throw the ball and throw it accurately, and so far with his embarrassing 40.4 completion percentage through three games, he’s done little to change the minds of those making the pre-draft JaMarcus Russell comparisons.
Comparing Newton’s preseason so far to the debuts of several other recent highly drafted quarterbacks, Sam Bradford–last year’s first overall pick–completed 60 percent of his passes over four preseason appearances last August, while Matthew Stafford clicked on 54.5 percent of his attempts two years ago.
Phil Taylor is a large hunk of man. We knew this months ago prior to the draft, but seeing the 6’3″, 335 pound defensive tackle use that weight to push Eagles center Jason Kelce back into Michael Vick and record his first sack and first fumble on the same play was like watching a young Hercules triumph over Atlas.
Exaggeration? Absolutely. Has Taylor demonstrated that he can be a key figure to improve the Browns’ 25th ranked pass rush in 2010? Absolutely.
Washington’s Ryan Kerrigan has earned similar praise with his two sacks this preseason. He had six tackles against Baltimore this week, and has been exactly what Washington expected when the outside linebacker was drafted in the first round to complement Brian Orakpo.
Still no separation under center in Washington. Rex Grossman and John Beck traded punches during Washington’s loss to Baltimore last Thursday, and all that we know for certain is that Grossman is glad Jon Gruden isn’t his coach.
Neither arm did much to grow the gap, and it showed in the boxscore. Grossman completed eight of his 15 attempts for 112 yards and a touchdown, while Beck finished with six completions on 10 attempts, with a touchdown and an interception. Beck’s pick is the clear blemish, and it may have given Grossman a minuscule edge. It came on a badly overthrown ball to Donte Stallworth, with Washington deep in its own territory.
Byron Leftwich is cursed. There’s some concern here for those crazy, towel-waving, superhero suit making Steelers fans, but it’s minimal. Ben Roethlisberger has been pretty durable throughout his seven-year career, with his only major injury absence coming when he missed four regular season games in 2005 due to a knee injury. But Roethlisberger’s still only had one season in which he played a full 16 games, missing one game in 2006 after his motorcycle accident, another in 2007, and playing with an ailing shoulder in 2008.
Leftwich is gone for the year with his broken left arm, and Big Ben’s rugged style could lead to the Steeler faithful having to trust veteran Charlie Batch–and maybe not Dennis Dixon–for a game or two.
Roy Williams is taking his sweet time to look like an NFL receiver in Chicago. We get it. Williams is older, he started camp late because of the lockout, and Mike Martz’s playbook is written in some kind of language that’s a cross between Wingdings and hyroglifics. But at some point both physically and mentally, a shred of progress would be encouraging for the wideout Chicago foolishly signed to be Jay Cutler’s savior.
I suppose that’s what we saw Saturday night during the Bears’ loss to Tennessee when Williams had his first two receptions as a Bear for 33 yards. But in the final days of August there should be evidence of clear chemistry between quarterback and receiver, and the connection between Cutler and Williams is minimal. Earl Bennett was targeted more (six times) while Cutler was in the game, and was used as the outlet to stretch the field while Williams was a secondary option.
If this was a precursor for Williams’ regular season role in Chicago’s offense, then it’s actually a workload more suited to his age and regression. A slightly lesser supporting role is ideal, and expecting Williams to be a primary receiver was always ridiculous.
But let’s end on a positive note for Chicago…Sure, it was against a pass rush that lost Jason Babin in the offseason, but any time the Bears’ first-team offense doesn’t allow a sack they’ve earned a Pop Warner-style post-game pizza party.