Since next week's game is even more meaningless than usual, as it's just a final audition for the guys in the 45-75 spots, I think I can draw some conclusions from what I've seen so far.
1)This D should be way better than even the biggest optimist could have hoped. The D line, with the glaring exception of NT at some points, has been playing really well, and the proof of that is the outstanding performances we're seeing from multiple LB's, the playmakers in a 3-4 D. Dorsey and T-Jax are playing very well, Gilberry and Magee have their pressure roles. The run D has been particularly good, and I think there's a realistic chance we can hold teams to under 4 yards per carry, what a real good Defense needs to do.
2)Studebaker MUST start/play at least 90% of the snaps. He is a constant disruptor in all phases of the game. He has been overall the star of the meaningless games, and he's done everything it should take to supplant Vrabel as the man at that OLB spot. With him and Hali, we will get the the pressure from the OLB's that a good 3-4 team needs.
3)Like last year, DJ and Demorrio Williams should share the ILB slot situationally. It won't make DJ or his fans happy, but Williams has played very well, and has some specific strengths that DJ doesn't, and vice versa. Williams is a much better blitzer than DJ, and I hope we see more of him in that role, like we did in his 1st year here. DJ is a much better player against the pass, and is also adept at tackling RB's for losses.
4)Kendrick Lewis MUST start/play most of the snaps. On a smaller scale than Studey/Vrabel, the D is just way faster when Lewis is on the field vs McGraw. Jarrad who???
5)Dexter McCluster is the ultimate weapon. This kid does everything, from anywhere. It appears he will have a bigger role in the running game than anyone envisioned. He's going to become a prototype player, and pretty soon every team is going to want to get their own version of DMC. Tough as nails.
6)Javier Arenas is at least a top 5 NFL return guy, and he may not even be the best natural returner on his own team. If DMC had been doing this regularly since College, I think he'd be the #2 returner in the league, after Cribbs, who may be the best of all time when he's done. Arenas is special in his own right though, and like Cribbs and Vanover, he brings power to the return game.
7)Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis adjust. BIG TIME. A constant theme has been improvement as the game goes on. They have no problem adjusting on the fly.
8)Matt Cassel is still the key to this team. I've seen some good, and some not so much. He looks like he's getting rid of the ball faster. He's really shown some zip on a few throws in the red zone. He looks to be way more accurate than last year, and should at least be in the 60% range. He still does not have pocket presence, and he'll still make the goofy throw where you just don't know what he saw/was thinking. If he plays just OK, this team should be in the playoff hunt. Better than that, we should be a very serious threat to win the division. I think he'll overall play OK, and will be more of a passenger than a driver.
9)We will get at least 30 sacks, and give up less than 40. Both lines are improved. Not mega improved, but improved enough to not be tremendous weaknesses. I don't know how bad O'Callaghan is hurt, but Barry Richardson played real well last night at RT, and he may have stolen the job, based on his overall nice pre season, and O'Callaghan's not so much. Cassel may not know what it's like to be sacked less than 40 times.
10)We out statistic-ed our opponent in all 3 games, something that rarely happened last year. That's the sign of a team with a growing talent base.
Of course all this should be taken with a severe grain of salt. The exhibition games are truly meaningless, and what you see in them often just doesn't translate once the real stuff starts, and teams start planning for a specific opponent. The good news for us is we have the best Coaching staff in the league, IMO, and should only be better when these guys are planning for a specific opponent.