After about two weeks of practices, including three joint workouts with the Jaguars, the Patriots are set to open their four-week preseason schedule tonight at Gillette Stadium.
First up on the schedule? The Jacksonville Jaguars.
The good news is that we all get to see this team in live game action for the first time since the Super Bowl. That being said, the star players are not expected to play. Fan favorites like Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Brandin Cooks, and Julian Edelman highlight the list of veterans expected to sit.
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There are still plenty of matchups and players to keep an eye on tonight. So with that in mind, here are five things to watch for in tonight’s exhibition:
1.) The quarterbacks not named Brady
Everyone knows Tom Brady is the starting quarterback come week one. What we don’t know is the status of the backups. Last year Jimmy Garoppolo started week one and two as Brady served his suspension and played well before getting injured. There was also a ton of rumors about trading Garoppolo, but Belichick elected to keep the young slinger. So it’s Garoppolo’s time to showcase what he can do. Garoppolo has not looked particularly great this camp, but Garoppolo himself has acknowledged he performs better in games. It will be interesting to see if he is able to march up and down the field with ease like he did against the Dolphins last season. Jacoby Brissett is also expected to see game action. He’ll look to build off his rookie campaign.
2.) The young wide receivers
On paper, the receiving core is stacked. Brandin Cooks, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Chris Hogan, and Malcolm Mitchell are a solid starting five. However, injuries do happen and the Patriots have a few young players trying to make a name for themselves. Look out for Devin Lucien and Austin Carr, two players who have had impressive camps. They likely won’t make the team without an injury to one of the top five receivers, but Belichick has shown a willingness to give young kids a shot if needed. You know, the next man up mentality.
3.) Cyrus Jones
Year two is important for Cyrus Jones. Jones has had a couple good weeks of camp. Being a second round pick last year makes him a near certainty to make the team, but if he continues to struggle he could be in trouble. Tonight will be a good test for him as he showcases himself as a kick and punt returner. All eyes will be on Jones and whether or not he muffs any kicks or can make plays in the return game. Let’s not forget he’s a cornerback. Jones isn’t very high on the depth chart so these next four preseason games are his chance to shine.
4.) Deatrich Wise and Kony Ealy
Here’s the rookie that everyone has been drooling over. Henry McKenna of USA Today’s Patriots Wire wrote a story about Wise stealing Kony Ealy’s job. Time will tell if that happens but there is no denying the fourth-round pick out of Arkansas has turned a number of heads in camp. Wise was projected to be a first round pick after a successful junior season. In fact, ESPN’s Mel Kiper ranked him as a top 30 prospects before he suffered a hand injury in the season-opener of his senior year. He then suffered a separated shoulder. So with Wise being healthy, he could be the Patriots latest draft day steal. As for Kony Ealy, he hasn’t had the greatest camp but the Patriots traded for him this past offseason, so he will be given the chance to show off his skills.
5.) Running backs
LeGarrette Blount left town so now someone else gets a shot at all those carries. Newcomer Mike Gillislee, who joined the Patriots as a restricted free agent, would be in line for that role, however, he is dealing with a hamstring injury. The Patriots also have James White, Dion Lewis, and Rex Burkhead to fill out the running back depth chart. So does that mean Brandon Bolden’s days are limited? He could be the odd man out. Watch out for young backs D.J. Foster and Leshun Daniels, who are expected to see a lot of action tonight.