The Patriots have spent the week down in Richmond, VA getting together with the Washington Redskins for some join practices similar to the way they have with the Eagles and Buccaneers in recent years. The week has offered a chance to really get into the swing of the season with a much more physical up-tempo atmosphere. With the game tonight we have some interesting matchups and position battles to keep an eye on. Most of the starters will be done after the first series or two and we should get a fresh look at many rookies and FA acquisitions.
Running backs The story of camp thus far has been James White the rookie 4th round pick out of Wisconsin enjoying a fast start to camp. He has earned praise from Belichick, among others, noting he has three-down capability along with solid hands. It will be interesting to see how he performs in game action and I expect him to get extended snaps. In addition, this game will be one of the most important times for UDFA Roy Finch, Oklahoma, to shine, he is a long shot to make the roster but has a chance with steady improving performances. Don’t expect to see much Ridley and Vereen tonight.
New look secondary We won’t get a very long look at them, but it will be interesting to see how the new secondary lines up tonight, in addition to seeing who the first subs in are. I fully expect the starters to be Revis, Browner, Harmon and McCourty, however, with Browner suspended the first four games, it is going to be important to figure out who the second cornerback is to begin the year. The competition likely comes down to Logan Ryan and Alfonzo Dennard. Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson will begin their battle for a roster spot as it is highly unlikely both of them make the 53-man.
Garrrrrroopolllooskkiillolo & Mallett From the sound of it, Jimmy G has been having a rough camp, lots of incompletions, lots of interceptions and a diminishing number of practice reps. With Brady sitting this one out, Mallett will start the game and get some precious time with the #1s. If New England is trying to build up any Mallett value, then he will likely be in for almost the whole game, if not the whole game. This is a huge game for both Mallett’s possible trade value and his future. Barring unforeseen circumstances, he will not be seeing any playing time in the regular season. At most I expect Garoppolo to get in during the fourth quarter for some mop up duty and game action. The Patriots invested a high pick in this kid, but everyone needs to remember, there is absolutely no reason for him to rush. He has plenty of time to learn the NFL game and there is no reason to send him in there just to be treated like Tannehill in 2013.
Receiving Corps This is likely the most important position battle on the roster as well as the most highly contested. Edelman looks like he is on track for a repeat of 2013 in both targets and production, but after that it is wide open. Dobson is still out recovering from his foot surgery. Amendola is working on gaining Brady’s trust and staying off the training table. Word from camp on Thompkins is that he is make incredible plays, but on the other hand there is also chatter that he still has the Dropkins and his roster spot is in jeopardy. LaFell offers a big body receiver that this offense can always use, but his old habits have not died easy, as he has been noted to have drop problems as well all camp long, he is likely a roster lock due to his guaranteed money, his depth chart standing bears watching. It remains to be seen if he suits up tonight as he has been on and off the practice field, but Boyce is another player that needs to make his presence felt this preseason to secure his job.
Offensive Fatties The Patriots made several additions on the offensive line this offseason and tonight will be the first live look at how they have transitioned to the NFL game. Fleming, Halapio and Stork (if he suits up) are all looking to move up the depth chart and their journey begins tonight. I will be very interested in this position tonight, with high hopes that the Patriots can move on from Wendell and/or Connolly when roster cuts come around.
No Gronk, but Hoo? Gronkowski will not be suiting up tonight and this should offer us the chance to see the rest of the players in camp who are vying for a TE roster spot with the Patriots. With James Devlin, FB looking like a roster lock, I expect no more than 3 TEs to be kept on the roster. This leaves just 2 spots to be fought for by DJ Williams, Michael Hoomanawwoie, Justin Jones and Asa Watson. Tonight will be the first look at a few guys we won’t be seeing in Patriots colors Week 1.