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What we learned Friday: Quarterback battles, Round 1

With 16 teams in action Friday night, there were no shortage of storylines to follow. But let's be real: Nothing mattered more than the three quarterback battles.

In Philadelphia, Michael Vick held serve with a sharp performance. Nick Foles also led a touchdown drive, which means Eagles coach Chip Kelly continues to have a good problem. Kelly has two decent quarterback options, while the New York Jets and Jacksonville Jaguars search for one.

Mark Sanchez threw a pick-six on his first drive, and he outplayed Jets rookie Geno Smith overall. (Smith also suffered an ankle injury.) Blaine Gabbert threw for just 19 yards in 10 attempts, including an interception. That's hard to do. Chad Henne looked much better, but the Jaguars scored just three points on the night.

Here's what else we learned Friday night:

  1. On Friday's Around The League Podcast, we warned against overrating preseason performances from veteran players. Still, it was hard not to appreciate Tom Brady's ability to seamlessly integrate all his young players into the offense.

Undrafted rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins backed up all the training-camp hype with four catches in one drive. Undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld started at tight end; rookie Aaron Dobson caught a 23-yard pass from Brady, and second-year pro Shane Vereen caught a touchdown while lined up at wideout. This offense looked very different, but it was totally fascinating.

  1. Ryan Mallett never quite impresses in August. He was inaccurate before leaving with a head injury that doesn't appear serious. Tim Tebow subsequently got a ton of playing time and fared worse. Tebow ran a lot of read-option plays.
  1. LeGarrette Blount might have sewn up a roster spot with 101 yards and two scores, including a wild 51-yard scamper that looked like Marcus Allen's Super Bowl play on sizzurp. The Patriots could wind up keeping five running backs.
  1. Eagles backup running back Bryce Brown had a strong effort. He's trying to hold off Felix Jones and Chris Polk for his job.
  1. Philadelphia didn't huddle a lot or take many snaps from center, especially when Foles was in the game.
  1. The first-round wide receivers impressed for both teams. After returning the opening kickoff 50 yards, Vikings rookie Cordarrelle Patterson hauled in four passes for 54 yards and just missed another sideline grab. Although he's playing behind Jerome Simpson at this point, Patterson's talent will be hard to keep off the field. He's not quite as freakishly athletic as Julio Jones, but there are similarities in their games.

Texans first-rounder DeAndre Hopkins made up for a drop with a highlight-reel 34-yard touchdown over the top of Vikings cornerback Bobby Felder. It's the type of play Hopkins has been making routinely in Texans camp.

  1. Christian Ponder attempted just two passes, including an interception off Simpson's hands, before he was replaced. Backup Matt Cassel was a misleading 12 of 19 for 212 yards and one touchdown with a troubling interception. Cassel was shaky against pressure; the majority of his yards came after the catch on big plays by Stephen Burton and Zach Line.
  1. Vikings rookie defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was forced from the game with a left knee issue but downplayed the injury after the game.
  1. It was a discouraging night all around for Jacksonville. Gabbert struggled badly, and Justin Blackmon had to be escorted to the locker room. Blackmon wasn't even dressed for the game.
  1. Another performance like this out of Gabbert next week, and Jaguars coach Gus Bradley might have no choice but to go with Henne.
  1. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill had spotty protection once again, but he showed great chemistry with Dustin Keller. Mike Wallace didn't have a catch. Keller is a fantasy sleeper.
  1. The Jaguars forced the ball to "Offensive Weapon" Denard Robinson, who had 32 yards on nine carries. The blocking wasn't great.
  1. Sanchez bounced back nicely from an early game pick-six to complete 10 of 13 passes for 125 yards and the Jets' first preseason touchdown since 2011. Smith went three-and-out on two of three series before exiting with a sprained ankle. Sanchez gets the decisive edge for the preseason opener, though Smith expects to be back for the Jaguars game next week. Greg McElroy enjoyed a fine performance as the third quarterback.
  1. Jets running back Bilal Powell might have ascended past an injured Chris Ivory on the unofficial depth chart, but it's only a temporary move. Powell gained more than 3 yards on just one of nine carries versus the Lions.
  1. Shaun Hill doesn't receive the national attention he deserves, but he remains in the discussion for NFL's best backup quarterback. He and former Denver Broncos receiver Matthew Willis hooked up several times for the Lions, highlighted by a beautiful 15-yard touchdown.
  1. Panthers rookie running back Kenjon Barner had some nice moments off the bench. He could have a decent role if Jonathan Stewart can't get healthy.
  1. Carolina's first-team offense did very little. Cam Newton threw an interception that Bears linebacker Jon Bosticreturned for a touchdown.
  1. Armanti Edwards' improbable run at Carolina's No. 3 receiver job continued with two catches for 38 yards.
  1. Jay Cutler threw an interception on his first pass, just like he threw an interception on his first pass of team drills in Bears camp. We hope this isn't an omen.
  1. Playing it cautiously, the Packers sat Randall Cobb (biceps) and Eddie Lacy (hamstring) for the preseason opener. James Starks started at running back, with rookie Johnathan Franklin as the first back off the bench. Neither took advantage of the opportunity to gain on Lacy and injured incumbent DuJuan Harris.
  1. Cardinals rookie Tyrann Mathieu backed up the training-camp hype, showing the same natural playmaking ability that made him a star at LSU.
  1. Carson Palmer hooked up with Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts for plays of 15-plus yards against the Packers' first-string defense, finishing 4 of 6 for 77 yards with a touchdown. So far, so good.
  1. The Cardinals got a long look at fifth-round pick Stepfan Taylor, with Rashard Mendenhall, Ryan Williams and Andre Ellington all banged up. Taylor isn't a dynamic talent as a runner, but his excellent pass protection and route running skills could land him the backup job if Williams' knee doesn't cooperate.
  1. The Chiefs got a scare when No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher went to the locker room for X-rays on his thumb, but those turned up negative. He should be fine.
  1. New Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith led a methodical 15-play, 80-yard touchdown drive, capped by a Jamaal Charles touchdown. A nice start for Andy Reid.
  1. Kenny Stills is the Saints' No. 3 receiver. He had a fantastic catch and a fumble in successive plays. That's the life of a rookie.
  1. Chase Daniel facing Drew Brees and the Saints reminded us of when Joe Montana faced Steve Young and the 49ers.
  1. Operating as a read-option quarterback, Terrelle Pryor had more success with the Raiders' second-team offense than Matt Flynn did with the starters. Pryor marred an otherwise positive night with a brutal end-zone interception, throwing across his body in the middle of the field.
  1. The Tony Romo-to-Dez Bryant connection showed no signs of rust, the two Cowboys picking up where they left off in the second half of last season. Bryant looks even more confident and physical than he did in his breakout season, bullying the Raiders' secondary for 58 yards and three receptions on one late first-quarter drive.
  1. Cowboys wide receiver Cole Beasley was sent for X-rays after suffering a left foot injury in the second half. He hauled in a 15-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Orton in the second quarter.
  1. Seventh-round pick Brice Butler might have pushed past Andre Holmes for the Raiders' final wide receiver spot after hauling in two passes for 70 yards and a touchdown. An impressive physical talent, Butler checks in at 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds with 4.37 speed.

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