I have a recent, steadfast rule after watching, covering and or following the last 30 or so NFL exhibition seasons.
Don’t fall for it.
The "it" is falling in deep love with a rookie.
Every year there’s a rookie, sometimes two, who catch your eye in camp, and then in a preseason game or two.
Here are a few that stuck out ... then petered out:
In 1998, second-rounder out of Wisconsin, wide receiver Tony Simmons, looked like Jerry Rice in August. Then he looked slow the other months.
In 2015, a sixth-round tight end out of Arkansas, A.J. Derby, looked like Rob Gronkowski’s future replacement that first July camp, but he was dealt away 15 months later.
In 2017, an undrafted slot receiver out of Northwestern, Austin Carr, was the pre-season darling, leading the Pats in catches (14), yards (157) and touchdowns (2). He has nine career receptions in 15 games since.
But it doesn’t mean there can’t be some gleaning from watching the rookies get their first shot under the bright lights. Even some veterans.
Here are five impressions from Thursday night’s opener for the Patriots:
1. Stidham’s poise
Jarrett Stidham didn’t look like a rookie, fourth round draft pick. He looked as if this wasn’t his first rodeo. True, he faced many second, third or even fourth-tier defenders for the Lions, but he never wavered in the pocket. His eyes were downfield. He sensed pressure when it was there and moved. And his arm is very strong. Bottom line: He looked very poised, which is code for “he looked like he knew what he was doing.” The irony is that Brady’s early assessment as a rookie in preseason was his “poise.” While his personal quest for six Super Bowls is up in the air, he piqued our interest.
2. Meyers’ confidence
While quarterback gets the most scrutiny, particularly with Tom Brady’s one-year deal and impending free agency, the rookie who shined the most was undrafted free agent Jakobi Meyers. The reason for not being drafted after his stellar season at N.C. State last fall -- 92 rec., 1,047 yards, 4 TDs – was his 4.6 in the 40-yard dash. But he had no problem getting separation against the Lions backups. He was recruited as a quarterback, which means he adds some versatility, athleticism and knowledge to the position. This is a very confident young man (see: Stidham), too.
3. Hoyer’s status
Brian Hoyer may have won himself a job on Thursday night (12 of 14 passes, 147 yards, 2 TDs), just not 100 percent sure it is with Patriots. If I had to guess, Coach Bill Belichick would keep three QBs if it won’t hurt special teams or depth on defense. But at worst, Hoyer showed some savvy to continue his career as a backup somewhere, particularly with a good team without a worthy backup. Hoyer had a lot of time to throw the ball, saying “It’s easier to play this position when you don’t get touched.”
4. Defense’s big day
The Patriots have allowed six points in its last two games. OK, I get it, the exhibition game isn’t as important as the Super Bowl, but it seemed to be a continuation of what happened last February. While the Patriots offense looked precision-like, which we oftentimes don’t say when Brady is on the bench, the defense was even better, particularly the pressure (nine sacks). It wasn’t one player, but several contributing to the collapsing of the Lions’ pocket. Coming into this season, the word is the Patriots defense might be very good, even better than a year ago. Well, it looked that way.
5. Belichick’s D
I’d like to introduce you to the new Patriots defensive coordinator … Bill Belichick. It appeared as if Belichick was holding a tutorial for all defensive coaches on Thursday night, talking shop with four or five assistants around him. Because Josh McDaniels has such a grip on the Patriots offense and a pristine relationship with Brady, Belichick appears to be all-in overseeing the defense. What does that mean? Bad things for the opposing offenses.