If the preseason is any indication, it won't take long for the Smith-Maclin connection to find pay dirt once the games begin to count in September.
The two made beautiful music in Friday night's victory over the Titans, making it abundantly clear that Maclin has earned Smith's trust with impeccable route running and reliable hands. Whereas Dwayne Bowe moved like a lumbering tight end the past two years, Maclin still has the look of a sleek go-to receiver outside of Chip Kelly's receiver-friendly Eagles offense.
Maclin was targeted on seven of Smith's 18 first-half pass attempts, hauling in seven passes for 65 yards.
Smith didn't trust his arm beyond 10 yards last season, in large part because he didn't have the luxury of field-stretching playmakers.
Smith is one of the rare quarterbacks with his own set of triplets at running back, tight end and wide receiver.
Here's what else we learned in Friday's preseason matchups:
- It took three weeks and a series of three-and-outs, but the Patriots' first-team offense finally generated its first score of the preseason when Tom Brady lofted a beautiful tear-drop pass into tight end Scott Chandler's hands for an 18-yard touchdown deep in the second quarter. With All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski being held out for precautionary reasons and wide receivers Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell sidelined by injuries, Brady has struggled in much the same fashion as last September. Playing the entire second half, Jimmy Garoppolo had a promising outing for the second straight week. Big plays have been elusive this month, but his 76.3 completion rate on 80 attempts suggests this offense won't face plant if Brady sits out the first four games of the season.
- The Panthers' new "committee" approach at wide receiver is springing leaks. Nominal No. 1 receiver Corey Brown has had the yips the past two weeks, dropping a series of passes. He's seriously lacking in physicality. Veteran Jerricho Cotchery was quickly declared out for the game when he exited with a groin injury. Sidelined with a hamstring strain of his own, rookie Devin Funchess should get every opportunity to lead this motley crew once he's healthy.
- For the second straight summer, Blake Bortles has given Jaguars fans reason for hope. This time around, he has shown noticeably improved mechanics, touch and poise in Greg Olson's new offense. Playing without Pro Bowl tight end Julius Thomas and No. 2 receiver Marqise Lee, Bortles' first-team offense converted 10 of 12 third-down opportunities. An early second-quarter touchdown marked the seventh consecutive scoring drive for Bortles, going back to the preseason opener. Through three weeks, he has completed 39 of 60 (65.0 percent) passes for 461 yards (7.7 YPA) and a 93.8 passer rating. If Bortles' mechanical fix holds for 18 more weeks, the Jaguars will have a young star at quarterback.
- After missing the last two weeks with a finger injury, second-round rookie T.J. Yeldon started at running back and played an every-down role on the first series. Yeldon also handled the goal-line opportunities after Denard Robinson entered as the lead back early in the second quarter. If this is a committee attack to start the season, Yeldon appears to be at the forefront.
- Lionsrookie sensationAmeer Abdullah not only worked as the first-team kickoff returner, but also earned the first carry of the game in the backfield. He's locked and loaded for a major role regardless of Joique Bell's health. The more interesting question is how the Lions could possibly cut hard-charging undrafted rookie Zach Zenner after a third consecutive strong showing. Seeing action with the first- and second-string offenses, Zenner led the Lions with 85 yards on eight carries, bringing his preseason average to 6.5 yards per carry. If Bell isn't ready for Week 1, Zenner's size and physicality will be needed between the tackles.