1. The breakout player of training camp was rookie cornerback Corey Ballentine.
John Schmeelk: Fact – It is impossible to overstate Corey Ballentine’s rise during training camp. He was a sixth round pick. He attended Division II Washburn University. He missed rookie minicamp and part of OTA’s after being shot the night he was drafted. He dealt with the mental anguish of losing his best friend, who was shot and killed in that same incident. Despite all of that, Ballentine has shown up, made more plays on the ball than any other defensive back, and looked like a Day One or Two draft pick. As is the nature of the position, especially for a rookie, he gives up some plays. But he makes more. Usually when a player is selected in a late round and is from a small school, there are a lot of fundamentals to work on. The player is often a project and may have to spend time on the practice squad. Ballentine, on the other hand, gets his head around when the ball is in the air as well as any cornerback on the roster. He looks like he belongs and has proven he can be trusted when the regular season starts on September 8.
Lance Medow: Fact -- When you take into consideration the strides Corey Ballentine has made since missing some time in the spring and having to play a bit of catch-up, it’s hard to argue against the former Washburn standout being the breakout player of training camp. Let’s not forget he’s making the transition from a D-II school to the NFL. That’s not to say expectations were low. However, he has taken full advantage of his opportunities in practice and games and playing with the first team while DeAndre Baker and Antonio Hamilton were sidelined due to injuries, This year’s sixth round pick has been the breakout player of training camp.
2. The best play of the preseason so far was Jake Carlock’s pick-six in the opener.
Schmeelk: Fiction – Given he has been the most-scrutinized player in the preseason, it’s only right to talk about one of the excellent passes from Daniel Jones. His throw to the deep post to Brittan Golden in the second quarter against the Bengals was important because it demonstrated how far along he is mentally for a rookie. He started the play looking to the left, made a pump fake in that direction and kept his eyes to that side of the field. That moved the safety out of that area. Jones then quickly flipped his hips and shoulders and hit Brittan Golden where the safety was originally positioned. The pass wasn’t in the perfect spot, but it was where only his receiver could get it. It was a veteran play executed by a player in his third-ever NFL game.
Medow: Fact – It comes down to two plays: Jake Carlock’s pick-six or Brittan Golden’s 68-yard punt return for a touchdown. Both were impressive, but I’ll give Carlock the slight edge because he deflected the pass to himself and then ran it all the way back for a touchdown. While Golden had to put plenty of effort into his game-changing play, when it comes to a punt return, so much has to go right, especially in terms of the blocking.
3. Offensive line depth is the biggest competition still open heading into the preseason finale.
Schmeelk: Fact – There’s an argument to be made that it’s wide receiver, running back, or even the final inside linebacker spot, but finding the right swing tackle could be essential to the team’s success. Offensive linemen get banged up over the course of a season and it’s important to have depth, especially outside if one of those players goes down. Heading into this fourth preseason game, it’s unclear who the swing tackle is going to be. Chad Wheeler has been dealing with a back injury in recent weeks. Bran Mihalik just returned from a stinger. Nick Gates has gotten time at tackle, though he was thought of as a guard before this summer. Chad Slade has gotten time at tackle, too. One of these players will have a chance to step up in the fourth and final preseason game or the team may have to look elsewhere when final cuts happen over the weekend.
Medow: Fiction – I think offensive line depth is right near the top of the list, but you can make a strong case for running back, wide receiver and tight end. Jon Halapio and Spencer Pulley will make the team, so if the team keeps eight offensive linemen, the final two spots are the swing tackle and guard. Evan Brown and Chad Wheeler were both on the 53-man roster last season, as was Brian Mihalik, and Nick Gates spent the season on IR, so there are a few options from which to choose. However, at wide receiver, you’re talking about TJ Jones, Brittan Golden, Alonzo Russell, Reggie White Jr and Darius Slayton competing for, most likely, the final two spots. All of those players have flashed during preseason games and practices, and at tight end, depending on how many are kept, Scott Simonson, C.J. Conrad and Garrett Dickerson have all made a case for a spot on the roster. I think the decisions are tougher at wide receiver and tight end more than on the offensive line.
4. Super Bowl XLII was better than Super Bowl XLVI.
Schmeelk: Fact – Both games had exciting moments, but this debate comes down to one simple fact: the 2007 Patriots were undefeated and the best team of the modern era. Beating that team made Super Bowl 42 that much more special. In terms of the signature plays from the two games, as beautiful as Eli Manning’s sideline throw to Mario Manningham was, it doesn’t beat the sheer drama, unpredictability and chaos that came with David Tyree’s helmet catch. It is one of the most memorable plays in NFL history for a reason.
Medow: Fact – Whenever you knock off an undefeated team and prevent NFL history, no other Super Bowl can top that. Not only did the Giants spoil the Patriots’ perfect season in 2007, but the game featured one of the most remarkable catches in NFL and Super Bowl history, thanks to David Tyree’s grab off his helmet. Both Giants-Patriots matchups were intense and went down to the wire, but the first meeting had more on the line than the second, so is there really anything to discuss?