New England Patriots Links 8/12/10 - Patriots vs. Saints: Preseason Opener Tonight

LoMo gets some words of wisdom from former number 39 great, Sam Cunningham. "There's no dancing in football, son."

Mike Reiss lists his Ten things to watch in the Patriots-Saints preseason opener.

1. Wes Welker's participation. The recovering wide receiver fully participated in joint practices with the Saints on Tuesday and Wednesday, opening the possibility that he suits up for the preseason opener. The Patriots have not had live tackling in practice, other than at the goal-line, so if Welker suits up for the preseason opener it would mark another step in his progression. Bill Belichick was noncommittal Wednesday when asked if Welker will play. [+] EnlargeTom Brady AP Photo/Winslow TownsonThere's been no indication that Tom Brady's contract uncertainty will affect his playing time on Thursday.

3. Brandon Spikes in the middle. The late-second-round draft choice was moved into the starting lineup on the fourth day of training camp when Gary Guyton was sidelined with a knee injury and has been there since. He's a big presence next to Jerod Mayo, and Belichick seems intrigued by his instincts and feel for the game. Mayo also likes what he sees, but cautioned not to read too much into things at this point. "He's a good player. I knew that when he was at Florida and I was at Tennessee," Mayo said. "He's stepped in and done a nice job so far, but we haven't really done too much. Ask me that question after some games."

Ian Rapoport offers five things to watch in the Patriots/Saints game tonight.

2. How line fares without Mankins

Talking about the sit-out being performed by disgruntled Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins [stats] is one thing. But watching the line without him is the real test for the Patriots and for his leverage. With Nick Kaczur (back) out, it’s up to reserve Dan Connolly to key the run-blocking. If Connolly is as physical as Mankins, perhaps the veteran’s gripes fall on deaf ears. But if the line looks out of sync or soft, it only increases the urgency to strike a deal.

Christopher Price offers what to watch for in the preseason opener.

4. The Patriots pass rush. New England struggled to put consistent pressure on the quarterback last season. Now, without Derrick Burgess, the Patriots' only dynamic pass rusher is outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. Rookie Jermaine Cunningham has seen a lot of time with the No. 1 defense at the outside linebacker spot opposite Banta-Cain, and if he is able to flash some pass-rushing skills this preseason, it would go a long way toward ensuring he will get more reps at the spot during the 2010 season. In that same vein, if the pass rush struggles on Thursday, does New England step up its efforts to land someone like Aaron Schobel or Adewale Ogunleye in an attempt to right the ship?

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