Preseason all downhill from here

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Preseason all downhill from here

Preseason football gets a bad rap around here, and that reputation is entirely deserved. But even in the midst of all the apathy, the first preseason game is always special.

Its just nice to see everyone back on the field. The sight of Brady under center gives you that safe, familiar feeling. Its your first real introduction to the rookies, the new additions and the new collective face of this years team.

Its football! Its back!

The nostalgia wears off after about a quarter (or earlier if the starters get a quick hook), but those first few minutes feel right. Its the closest well get to regular season excitement until the real thing.

Looking back at the opener Thursday night, the story has to be Chandler Jones. As a friend of mine posted on his Facebook wall: I have been waiting 20 years for you Chandler Jones.

Right now, thats what it feels like.

Im so excited about Jones that Im already worried something bad is going to happen. He seems too good to be true. I dont care if its only the first game of the preseason, he did things last night that I havent seen from a Patriots DE since . . . I dont know. Im going to stop now on the off chance that Jones is a bust and this paragraph haunts me for the rest of my Internet life. But one last time, two feet on the ground: CHANDLER JONES.

Ridley brought it, too. Love that wobbly running style; he looks like younger, stronger and more athletic Kevin Faulk. And he didn't fumble! Brandon Lloyd showed that he WILL get open; he looked like what we all imagined Ocho would be. On the defensive side, other than Jones, Patrick Chung and Steve Gregory had a great first date, and can hopefully build on their relationship moving forward. It looks like Kyle Love is still on the rise as well. Love Love.

Obviously, there's of room for improvement. I know that everyones already gone mad over the offensive line. But come on, that wasnt the offensive line. Those were imposters. The Pats didnt have Mankins, Waters or Vollmer. Would you judge the receiving corps if Welker, Hernandez and Gronk were out? Of course not.

I'm not saying that the O-line is issue-free; just that it's too early chalk this as a major area of concern. It's too early for everything! It's one preseason game. Nothing qualifies as that big of a deal.

Well, except for Dane Fletcher.

That just sucks. It's a reminder of the biggest reason the preseason has this bad rap to begin with. You see a guy like Fletcher, who works so hard every year but can never catch a break, go down with an ACL and you wonder: "What's the point?" The worst part is that the play was called back on an offsides penalty. So in reality, Dane Fletcher's season is over because of a punt return that didn't count in a game that didn't count. How depressing is that? Just doesn't seem fair. But it's the grim reality of preseason. You never know when or where a player will go down, and just like that, disappear.

Sometimes I wish that's what the preseason would do. Just go up in smoke, and cease to exist. But in reality, I guess I'll settle on having one fake game in the books, and less than a month before the real thing gets underway.

If you need me in the meantime, I'll be at the pro shop, trying on Chandler Jones jerseys.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Felger: Sorry, Tom, but Jimmy G. and Brissett need to play Friday

Felger: Sorry, Tom, but Jimmy G. and Brissett need to play Friday

If there's any Patriots quarterback who should be getting meaningful time other than Jimmy Garoppolo on Friday in Carolina, it's not Tom Brady. It's Jacoby Brissett.

Brissett, obviously, will be the Patriots backup the first four games of the year, and the team has yet to go through the annual preseason exercise of subjecting him to the situation under which he's most likely to see time during the regular season. Typically, Bill Belichick will yank the starting QB out of the first half of an exhibition game unannounced and tell the backup to throw on his helmet and get out there. Brissett has yet to go through it, and you have to figure it's coming in the next two weeks.

Other than that, Garoppolo should see all the time while the starters are on the field. He's had little success going against the opposition's starters so far this month and needs every rep he can get. He needs to go through the routine of starting a prime-time game on the road, which will be the case Sept. 11 in Arizona.

Where does that leave Tom Brady? Stewing, probably. It's clear he wants to play. It's clear he wasn't happy missing last Thursday against Chicago and is pining for work Friday. If you were wondering how Brady would feel about losing time in training camp to Garoppolo as the Pats got ready for the regular season, you probably have your answer. He's not a fan.

There is a case to be made that the team and Belichick, in particular, owes Brady some love. Deflategate was dropped in Brady's lap from the start, and while the coach skated, the quarterback's sentence has finally become a reality. The Pats should want to make Brady happy. He deserves the respect.

But, ultimately, we ask the fallback Patriots question: What's best for the team? The answer isn't even close. Garoppolo deserves every snap, save for that potential emergency exercise with Brissett.

As for Brady's feelings? He'll get over it.

Email Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz week days, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 FM. Watch the simulcast daily on CSN.

Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

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Belichick impressed by rookie Thuney's work at left guard

FOXBORO -- Joe Thuney may not have won the starting left guard job officially, but Bill Belichick says he's on the right track. And for a rookie, that's feat in and of itself.

The third-round pick out of North Carolina State -- you may remember it as the Kevin-Faulk-in-the-No.-12-jersey selection -- has been the first-team left guard since the start of training camp, and he hasn't moved since. Thuney has occasionally taken snaps at center, and the Patriots have him learning multiple spots behind the scenes. But every time Nate Solder has run on to the field as the left tackle, Thuney has been there by his side at guard. 

Even going back to OTAs, held not long after he was drafted, Thuney was the top choice at that position. 

"Joe has done a good job with what we’ve given him," Belichick said. "There was a point where we felt comfortable making that, I’d say temporary move, It wasn’t permanent. But he has handled it well. I think he’s certainly moving towards being able to lock something down at some point. I don’t think we’re there yet, but I think he is certainly gaining on it. He has had a good preseason, had a good spring."

What once may have been deemed a temporary move back in the spring -- perhaps due to players like Shaq Mason, Tre' Jackson and Josh Kline dealing with injuries early in the offseason -- now seems like it should be a permanent one.

Thuney's run as the No. 1 left guard has been uninterrupted because his performance hasn't warranted a change. He's held his own against former first-round defensive tackle Malcom Brown in one-on-one practice drills, and he's been the highest-graded player on the Patriots offensive line through two preseason games, per Pro Football Focus. (The only players with higher grades on the team through two games are tight end AJ Derby and defensive end Trey Flowers.)

The man who went viral before the draft for his ability to solve a Rubik's cube in just over a minute has flashed an understanding of how quickly things move on the inside. Plus, playing under unretired offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia, Thuney has been quick himself, both picking up pressures and working to the second level in the running game with aplomb.

Thuney will still have a preseason game or two to solidify his grasp on a starting role, but even for the brief period during which Mason and Kline were simultaneously healthy, Thuney was the choice on the left side of the interior offensive line. Now that Mason is dealing with what's been reported as a hand injury, Jackson remains on PUP, and Jonathan Cooper is still out after suffering a foot injury early in camp, the job seems like Thuney's to lose.

That Belichick even hinted Thuney is "gaining on it" is an indication of just how impressive he's been during his short time as a pro.