DETROIT -- Kony Ealy had his moments last week in West Virginia and then in Houston. He flashed effective pass-rush moves in one-on-one periods during joint practices with the Texans. He occasionally created pressure during his second preseason game in a Patriots uniform.
But it would come as little surprise if the Patriots coaching staff found Ealy's inconsistency frustrating, and it comes as little surprise that the team has gauged his market for a potential trade, according to Tom Pelissero of NFL Media.
Where has Ealy's inconsistency shown itself? Take two examples from last week.
The first came in a practice when Ealy blew up a Texans pass play during a joint practice at the Greenbrier for what might have been a sack. On the very next snap, Ealy was blown off of his spot, helping to create an easy running lane for rookie running back D'Onta Foreman.
The second came at NRG Stadium when his pressure of rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson helped force a quick throw that was batted at the line of scrimmage by Alan Branch. On the next snap, Ealy's rush took him too far up the field, creating a gaping hole at the line of scrimmage for Watson to run through. The Texans needed five yards on third down to move the chains, and Watson's run went for six.
Ealy had a reputation during his three years in Carolina for not taking to the coaching he was given. Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was very open about the fact that Ealy had talent and that he expected things to work out for Ealy in New England, with a caveat: "If he listens and does things that coach asks of him," Rivera said, "I think he's got an opportunity to reascend."
The Patriots could use Ealy as their depth at defensive end has been thinned this summer. Rob Ninkovich retired. Deatrich Wise suffered a concussion in preseason game No. 1. Shea McClellin, who plays on the edge in certain packages, has missed long stretches of Patriots practices with an undisclosed injury. Derek Rivers suffered a serious knee injury in West Virginia. Geneo Grissom has been dealing with some physical limitations since before the Texans exhibition game.
New England Patriots
There's opportunity there for Ealy, and he knows it. After Bill Belichick held him out for the team's first training camp practice, which led to a confusing exchange with reporters the next day, Ealy has said all the right things. He has said he is trying to adapt to the new techniques he's being taught in New England. He has said that the number of reps he has been given has helped his progression.
Belichick explained following the Texans game that Ealy, along with several others, had plenty of good moments.
"I thought that Kony and [Caleb] Kidder, [James] O’Shaughnessy, [Austin] Carr, guys like that that played a high number of snaps did some very positive things," Belichick said. "Like everybody, there are things that could have been better and that they need to work on, but I thought they showed up positively a number of times."
And that may be true, but if the Patriots have shopped Ealy, that would be an indication that they aren't sold on having him in their plans for 2017.
Should Ealy perform well in Friday's preseason game in Detroit, the Patriots could be left with an interesting choice: Hold onto the player who has had an up-and-down camp and hope he taps into his potential more consistently? Or sell high, move on, and let someone else try to figure out when he'll be at his best?