In recent years, we watched [quarterbacks redacted] stink up the joint, and it carry over to the season. Last year, we watched Zach Mettenberger do a little bit of good, and a little bit of bad, and I would say that somewhat carried over as well.
The truth is, there's going to be a lot to see on Saturday, and while we can speculate on just what will and won't be a mirage, the truth is we don't really know. A spring game MVP performance from a backup running back like Richard Murphy or Michael Ford? Like a mirage. A 4-of-14 passing performance? Probably not a great sign. By the same token, if Mettenberger comes out and hits on 15 of 20 throws for big yardage? Probably a good sign. But there are no guarantees. Remember, once upon a time even Brad Wing played like shit in a spring game.
With that in mind, here are a couple of things that are reasonable to expect, at least in terms of this Saturday.
- Sloppiness. For starters, given that Elliot Porter is out, and the top backup centers are Ethan Pocic and Josh Williford, neither of whom have ever played center, it would not shock me at all to see a number of bad snaps on Saturday. Hopefully, it won't wreck too many plays. Between that, some newbies on the d-line (false starts) and a large number of starting defensive backs banged up (helloooo busted coverage), it should surprise nobody to see more than a few mistakes in this'n.
- Quarterback play will be interesting for a couple of reasons, but obviously it starts with Mettenberger's play. Things I'll be looking for are comfort and knowledge. Does he look like he knows what he's looking at on passing downs. Is he fluid getting in and out of the huddle and making his calls at the line? Is the ball coming out quickly -- this in particular is crucial. One of the undersold aspects of the green jersey, is that you never truly face a real pass rush. Defenders are never really moving at full speed when they know they'll have to slow up and avoid actually hitting the QB, so seeing him hit that back foot, throw or progress, will be big. In terms of the pure statistics, just something like what I would hope for in the regular season: completion percentage around 60ish, yards per attempt around 8ish, some touchdowns and few, if any, turnovers. Anything above that, great. Below that...ehhhhhh.
Having four quarterbacks also makes the division of reps a little interesting. Per the official rosters, the vets will be on the white team while Anthony Jennings and Hayden Rettig will lead the purple squad. Whether they (and Mett/Rivers) alternate series or quarters will likely give some indication about the depth chart. The more we see out of Jennings, the more likely it is that the talk about him seeing some playing time in the fall could be true.
In terms of the new offense, it's a little unclear exactly what you'll be able to tell, as I don't think the changes are quite as radical as some believe, in terms of scheme. I'll try to identify any new passing concepts as best I can. The best things to watch will be for any new formations -- there have been multiple practice videos showing pistol looks -- increased targets for the running backs (especially down the field) and tight ends, what, if any, of the rumored tempo packages are used. And of course, any specialty looks for Jennings. But don't forget, the coaching staff has always been notoriously tight when it comes to showing anything in these games.
- Running back play. How they get used will likely be a bit of a clue re: any offensive scheme changes. Catching more passes? Lining up in different spots? I'm not so sure,
especially with Alfred Blue not playing(Blue will play apparently). I don't know that Jeremy Hill needs to prove all that much, so I expect to see a lot from Kenny Hilliard and Terrence Magee. One thing to watch for, is whether Magee, or maybe Jarrett Fobbs (who has been working at running back, probably mostly for numbers reasons) get some time in the slot. Might be indicative of plans for Jeryl Brazil when he joins the team.
- Don't get me wrong, I would love to see some beautiful big plays, especially from Travin Dural on the long ball. But let's start small. JUST CATCH THE FUCKING FOOTBALL. Other than that, I'll be watching more for the route concepts, coverage reads and field awareness.
- Both Jalens and Ronald Martin are sitting, so that means the only starting DB that'll be out there is Craig Loston. The younger guys will have a nice chance to show off in a game-like situation. If it sounds like I'm discounting the younger corners like Derrick Raymond, Dwayne Thomas and Kavahra Holmes, it's because I've yet to hear much about them distinguishing themselves, and I'm pretty sure Tre'Davious White's gonna have a great shot at cracking the top four corner spots. I'd love to be proven wrong though. I am, however, incredibly interested in seeing how Corey Thompson and Jerquinick Sandolph look at safety. Do they look lost, or ready to contribute?
- The front seven, however, appears to be relatively healthy, and that's the bigger concern for this defense, specifically at the line of scrimmage. How does Jordan Allen get off the line? How does Danielle Hunter hold up versus the run? Are the tackles competing?
- Of course, the newbies. Avery Johnson, John Diarse, Logan Stokes and especially Christian LaCouture. Do they get pushed around? Do they make plays?
- Finally, there's also the kicking competition between James Hairston and Colby Delahoussaye. It appears to still be pretty tight. This is definitely not something I want to be worried about come August.
Oh, and as if it didn't need to be said already, the most important thing: AVOID INJURIES!