The third night of preseason football continued to provide answers to some of the looming questions that dominated the offseason. While one game will certainly not serve as a definitive evaluation on a player, it does provide an opportunity to make projections based on flashes of talent and potential.
Here are some of my observations from watching Saturday's five preseason games:
Cam Newton has the skills to be a special player. The No. 1 overall pick had an up-and-down performance in his debut, but there is no denying his spectacular talent. He is a remarkable athlete with the size, agility and arm strength that coaches covet in a quarterback. Although his footwork and mechanics are unrefined, his natural ability allows him to overcome his technical deficiencies to make jaw-dropping throws while falling off his back foot. Granted, he narrowly missed a few big-play opportunities due to his failure to deliver pinpoint passes on time, but also connected on a few deep balls that only a handful of quarterbacks in the league could make in those situations. With only a little more than a week of practice under his belt, the Panthers have to be encouraged by the potential of their new franchise quarterback.
The marriage between Colt McCoy and Pat Shurmur is going deliver big results in Cleveland. The rookie head coach has implemented a plan that caters to McCoy's strengths, and the Browns' impressive offensive debut against the Packers showcased the unit's potential. McCoy, who connected on 9 of 10 pass attempts for 134 yards with a touchdown, looked comfortable operating within a scheme that featured a mixture of movement, play-action and drop-back passes. While most of the throws could be considered high-percentage, quick-rhythm tosses, the second-year QB took enough deep shots to keep defenders from clamping down on the Browns' underneath routes. With Peyton Hillis likely to attract eight-man fronts on a consistent basis, McCoy will enjoy more big nights from the pocket in Shurmur's efficient scheme.
Shawne Merriman is back. After spending parts of the past three seasons on the sideline due to a host of injuries, the three-time Pro Bowler looks like he has regained his past form. He flashed the explosiveness that had been lacking in his game in recent years, and looked like the dominant force that terrorized the league during his first three seasons. While the Bears' woeful offensive line should temper the excitement surrounding Merriman's two-sack performance, it was the way he created consistent pressure that was most impressive. He bull rushed his way past blockers on the way to the quarterback, and his ability to win with second effort showcased the explosiveness that had been lacking in his game. With three more games to hone his skills, Merriman very well could be the force the Bills were looking for to juice up their defense.
The Colts need a better backup plan for Peyton Manning. Nearly every team in the league would be in the same predicament without their starting quarterback, but the Colts' backups -- Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky -- lack the ability to keep the offense afloat in the four-time MVP's absence. Their ineptitude was on full display against the St. Louis Rams, as the duo combined to finish 9 for 16 for 166 yards with three interceptions. Painter, in particular, looks unprepared to handle the responsibility of directing the offense as a starter. He is repeatedly late with the delivery of his throws, and his ball placement leaves something to be desired. His interception on the third play of the game was the result of a poor throw that sailed over the intended receiver's head. Though he came back to deliver an accurate 41-yard strike to Pierre Garcon down the sideline, his overall inconsistency as a passer should force to Colts to reconsider their options at the backup spot.
Jason Pierre-Paul is on the verge of becoming a star. The second-year pro was regarded as one of the best athletes in the draft when he entered the league as the 15th overall pick as a season ago, but he is quickly becoming a dominant pass rusher. He overwhelmed Jordan Gross in a little over a quarter of play in the Giants' preseason opener, and showcased the freakish skills that should prompt the team to keep him in the starting lineup if and when Osi Umenyiora returns. Pierre-Paul recorded two sacks and generated a pressure that led to a Jimmy Clausen interception. His ability to wreak havoc against one of the league's better offensive tackles suggests that he is capable of duplicating that kind of production throughout the season. Given the immense talent that surrounds Pierre-Paul along the line, it is very likely that he posts big numbers as an edge rusher against isolated matchups.