Phil Perry

Patriots Stock Watch: Zappe struggles with ball security vs. Titans

Phil Perry gives his instant analysis of notable players from Patriots-Titans.

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The Patriots were already dealing with problems along their offensive line. Then Riley Reiff went down with a leg injury against the Titans on Friday, and the situation got a little more dire. He had been the team's top right guard the last few weeks with Mike Onwenu out. 

Onwenu practiced for the first time this summer on Wednesday, but even if he slid in for Reiff, there was a chance Reiff either took over at right tackle or was a top substitute to play either on the inside or the edge. 

The severity of Reiff's injury is unknown at this point, but the Patriots need to get healthy up front. Without Onwenu and Strange, and with a major question mark at right tackle, there are enough moving pieces up front to concern even Bill Belichick. Had his line been in good shape, perhaps the Patriots head coach -- fond of saying "football players play football" for a long time -- would've played some of his starters on the offensive side of the ball.

Friday night came and went without any reps for Mac Jones and many fellow regulars, but the game served as an opportunity for the Patriots to evaluate the back end of their roster. Here's who we thought played well... and who left something to be desired.

Stock up

Sam Roberts, DE

That's how you make a push for a roster spot -- whether it's in New England or elsewhere -- in the preseason finale. The second-year defensive lineman out of Northwest Missouri State recorded a run stuff, two tackles for loss and a sack... all in the first half. He had another tackle for loss in the fourth quarter.

His motor clearly runs hot, as he made a tackle from behind on Julius Chestnut 23 yards downfield -- something you don't typically see from a big-bodied lineman. Roberts has had a strong summer, despite a pair of penalties in the second preseason game in Green Bay, and maybe Bill Belichick finds a spot for him on his initial 53-man roster.

Ronnie Perkins, DE

Perkins has missed a chunk of camp with an undisclosed injury. Looked no worse for the wear on Friday. He had two quarterback hits, a pressure, two run-stuffs and a tackle for loss... and he went viral.

One of his tackles -- he had seven in the first half alone -- came soon after he vomited at the line of scrimmage. Might not have his conditioning where he wants it after missing so much time, but he produced (beyond, y'know, his lunch) in Nashville. 

Calvin Munson, LB

He may end up a special-teams specialist. That's why he ended up on our latest 53-man roster. But he also showed up on defense against the Titans. He knifed through the crowded line of scrimmage for a tackle for loss early in the game. Soon thereafter, he made a fingertip grab for an interception. Nice night for Munson. He still may be on the bubble, but he made his case Friday. 

Honorable mention: Kayshon Boutte, WR

Boutte barely played in this one, perhaps indicating his roster spot is safe. With Demario "Pop" Douglas and Tyquan Thornton hurting at the receiver position of late, Boutte has made the most of his opportunities in recent practices. Apparently, Belichick has seen enough to keep the sixth-rounder from LSU on his roster.

Stock down

Bailey Zappe, QB

It was a little surprising to see Zappe get back onto the field for the start of the third quarter. It wasn't long after that that he was getting an earful from Bill O'Brien on the sidelines after a missed out-route to Malik Cunningham. Zappe fumbled a whopping three times while trying to avoid pressure.

Yes, there was plenty of pressure. But for a quarterback who needs to function in an offense where the football is out on time and in rhythm, there wasn't much of that happening outside of quick slants to perimeter receivers that mostly fell incomplete.

Hard to get a true evaluation of Zappe understanding who was blocking for him and which receivers stood with him in the huddle. Still, ideally, you'd like to see a second-year quarterback make his decisions a little more quickly and protect the football more consistently.

Jack Jones, CB

Jones played almost the entirety of the first half, and it didn't go well for him. He picked up a 32-yard defensive pass interference penalty, he ate a vicious stiff-arm from rookie running back Tajae Spears, and he also allowed a 30-yard grab in the second quarter.

Why did he play so much? If the Patriots feel he may be facing a league suspension stemming from his legal situation, they may be trying to get him as many competitive reps as possible while they can. They did the same thing with Brandon Browner in 2014 -- he played a significant number of snaps through the preseason, including in the finale while most regulars sat -- when Browner faced a four-game suspension to start that season.

Andrew Stueber, OL

Tough night for Stueber, especially early. He allowed the initial pressure that got Zappe scrambling and eventually led to his first fumble of the night. He allowed another sack later in the night.

Perhaps the Patriots feel as though they have someone they can develop in Stueber -- he made a strong block on Kevin Harris' touchdown run early in the game Friday -- but he doesn't seem ready to factor into the active-roster discussion just yet.

Two more names worth mentioning

Running back Pierre Strong was playing late into the night on Friday. Doesn't mean he won't make the roster, but it's not a great sign. Strong was a fourth-round pick a year ago.

Carl Davis also played late in this one. The veteran defensive tackle looks like he's firmly on the bubble.

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