After going to the Patriots game, and a short-week Steelers game, it's time to focus on the groups rather than the games themselves. Individual play, for this purpose, is more relevant, and team play overall has been uninspired. So here are how our groups fared:
*The RBs look ready. After Foster, Williams, and Goings, Haynes looks solid, but may or may not make it and he's not especially needed. Eric Shelton has no reason to be here. Brad Hoover has shown enough to stay the starter, though his challenges have all fallen by the wayside anyway - Steven Jackson showed a little at the end of last year but nothing this year, and Brad Latsko isn't anything either. The backup FB will likely be shared between Goings and rookie Dante Rosario, though Jeff King might get some odd looks there too. The lack of a future behind Hoover is concerning.
*The TEs were led by Dante Rosario this preseason, who outplayed starter Jeff King. Rosario showed some playmaking in the passing game, and is now a stalwart special teams blocker as well; his inline blocking at TE could be a little better, though. King showed inconsistencies but made some plays, and is a solid blocker, and seems to be the one getting the starting nod. King is, naturally, a little bigger and more useful at the line, where Rosario will probably be in motion more.
Michael Gaines, expected to start per Marty Hurney's "we're bringing back 21 of 22 starters"**, has been a disaster, notably fumbling a short pass inside his own 20 without being touched. As a blocker, Gaines lacks effort, despite his size, wingspan, and experience; he can engage anyone in the league but even if he gets push, simply stops on plays. The team needs something better here. Jermaine Wiggins has ties to the team and to Jeff Davidson, but isn't the blocker we need as the veteran amongst these two young ends, and let's hope that there's some veteran influence from elsewhere.
*The starting 4 linemen look fine; #5 looks like Jeremy Bridges long term, and Ryan Kalil for right now. Tenatively, it looks like Rashad Butler and Kenyatta Walker will be the backup tackles, Geoff Hangartner will be the backup C, and Evan Mathis will back up guard. Whether Will Montgomery stays, D'Anthony Baptiste stays, or neither stay, it's also possible the team could cut one of the above after two games when Bridges returns from suspension. This starting unit should be solid, but the 2nd unit didn't impress and the team may not have the depth it was expecting, aside from Kalil.
*DE remains deep, DT is woefully underprepared for the season. Stanley McClover has shown excitement, if not technique or run-stopping ability, as a 2nd year end, while Dave Ball has quietly and consistently become the guy more likely to play in place of Mike Rucker. Charles Johnson's stupid mistakes aside this week, he's been a solid player and shouldn't be released.
Stephen Williams has shown as an OK big body, but Kindal Moorehead was pushed around against the run, and isn't looking up to par; the lack of Jordan Carstens isn't catastrophic, but Moorehead's just a lesser version of Damione Lewis. Lewis himself hasn't shown the explosion of last September, before his injury; the backup DTs of last year, where we were 6 deep and able, are a contrast to the lack of depth this year. It looks like dropping Tony Brown wasn't smart, but not having another run stopper is where the hurt comes. Guys like Brown aren't irreplaceable.
*LB looks almost as good as ever, with youth in Thomas Davis and Jon Beason being solid; veteran backing is at a minimum, but gone are the holdovers like Sean Tufts and Vinny Ciurciu. Nail Diggs may be the backup soon, giving some experience on the bench to help the youth; James Anderson showed a little ability at WLB when both Diggs and Beason were unavailable, and Tim Shaw showed good range and tackling despite being a college DE last year. The future at this spot is wide open; the hard part to figure is whether promising backup MLB Adam Seward will be the guy inevitably taking over for Dan Morgan, or if it'll be Beason moving inside. Seward had a great camp, better than last year's solid camp, but whether it translates to anything in the regular season is hard to say (as he faltered starting last year).
*DB held odd disappointment in preseason, with Chris Gamble and Ken Lucas giving up plays that they were in position to challenge; Richard Marshall was pedestrian as the 3rd CB after being given the green light to challenge to start. Curtis Deloatch is the 4th, most likely for his size and special teams play than for his abilities as a corner, but he showed more coverage than Derrick Strait, a physical hitter that possibly should've been tried at safety. Chris Harris still doesn't grasp the defense (or is more mistake prone than most realize), Deke Cooper looks slow to react at FS, and Nate Salley may never see the field (him going to IR may be the roster spot for Bridges if health doesn't improve). Quinton Teal has made the 4th spot, and a tenuous 4th; he has range and isn't an awful coverage player, but he's the only healthy depth behind Harris and Cooper to start the season and his last meaningful game was against Gardner-Webb.
*ST coverage got better as games went along, which is a good sign - more starting level players are in now, as opposed to sending the first ten guys to evaluate out there. Open field tackling specifically improved greatly. FG kicking took an alarming turn against NE with two blocked kicks, but that should be remedied easily enough. Returners never really showed themselves - Ryne Robinson showed a little pop as a punt returner but not as a kick returner, Chris Horn showed a little veteran ability as a punt returner but isn't a kick returner, and Nick Goings unfortunately looks like our best kick returner again. Goings isn't bad, but he's a very good upfield blocker, and Robinson was drafted specifically to return.
**Marty Hurney's 21 became 20 with Mike Minter, 19 with Keyshawn Johnson, and 18 with Gaines' implosion. Nail Diggs' health may mean 17, but Beason may be better anyway.
If you count Bridges' missing of opening day, that's down to 16. Let's not forget that not all 21 of the starters necessarily deserved to be out here anyway, that the 22 spot (FS) was somehow downgraded instead of upgraded, and that we let a lot of experience go that could have added solidarity. And finally, "21 of 22" was an explanation of a lack of addition to the team for quality, and that explanation now fails.