Dont'a Hightower is one of several Pats rookies looking to make the most of their playing time tonight in Tampa.
Christopher Price tells us who we should watch for tonight against the Bucs.
Nate Solder/Marcus Cannon: Presuming that it’s still too early to work Sebastian Vollmer back into the rotation at right tackle, all eyes are going to be on Cannon on the right side and Solder on the left to see how they respond to two tough weeks to open the preseason. Despite back-to-back games where they appeared to struggle, they got an impassioned defense from offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia on Wednesday. It should be a little easier for them -- the Eagles tied for the league lead in sacks last season with 50, while the Buccaneers were dead last in the league in sacks with 23.
Logan Mankins: He didn’t play on Monday (likely still getting into football shape after making his first appearance of the summer because of offseason knee surgery) but the return of the big fella at left guard should go a long way toward stabilizing the offensive line. It’ll also make Solder better. With this game serving as something of a dress rehearsal for the regular season, you have to like his odds of playing Friday against the Bucs. History tells us he should be able to step in without missing a beat -- this is the same guy who stepped right back into the lineup after missing the first half of the 2010 season.
Jeff Demps: If he plays -- and there’s the very real possibility that he’ll sit out against the Bucs -- it will be interesting to see what he does and how many snaps he gets. The guess here is that he gets a few shots working as a return man, and maybe a rep here or there in the backfield. The Patriots made a serious investment in Demps, and are willing to wait for him to develop.
Jermaine Cunningham: After a lost 2011 season, Cunningham has shown signs of life over the course of training camp and into the preseason. He got a big boost on Monday against the Eagles, when he started -- with a handful of backups -- at defensive end, and had three quarterback hits, one of which was the shot that knocked Michael Vick out of the game. Now, he needs to build on that performance and start stringing together consistent outings. A good night against the Bucs would go a long way toward locking down a roster spot.
Jeff Howe picks out five things to watch in tonight's third preseason game.
1. Efficiency. Bill Belichick gave a dozen players the night off against the Eagles for a reason. He wanted them to have two good practices and a strong showing against the Bucs tonight. With a quick layoff, their efficiency will be up to the test. There’s no doubt Belichick will want his players to prove the decision to rest them was worth it. Quarterback Tom Brady [stats]’s precision and the defensive chemistry will be in focus.
3. Running back battle. Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen have gotten their share of opportunities, and they’ve flip-flopped halves in the first two preseason games. Then again, Ridley’s knee injury could have had an impact on his workload against the Eagles. Will Ridley keep his hold on the main job, or will the second-year backs keep role-specific duties? Tonight should offer something of an answer.
4. Safety hazard. Patrick Chung was very woozy after landing on his head Monday against the Eagles and didn’t practice this week in Tampa, so rookie safety Tavon Wilson earned plenty of reps in his place. Wilson has looked fine, but doesn’t really stand out in either direction. This will be a good test to see how he fares against a live offense, and let’s see how his playmaking ability stacks up, as well.
- Erik Scalavino shares his news and notes from Thursday's practice session.
- Thursday Press Conference: Bill Belichick.
- Player Interviews: Deion Branch.
- Patriots quotes: Players comment on their joint-practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
- The New England Patriots will host their annual Kickoff Gala at Gillette Stadium and Chris Berman will emcee Monday’s event.
- Patriots Today - Belichick, Schiano unite. (2.44 min. video)
- Patriots Today - Wilfork pleased with practices. (1.08 min. video)
- Patriots Today - Spikes chats about Demps. (1.19 min. video)
- Patriots Today - Going 1-on-1 with McCourty. (2.29 min. video)
- Patriots Today - Analyzing Pats-Bucs. (3.12 min. video)
- PFW In Progress - Paul Perillo and Andy Hart preview Friday's preseason matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (2 hour program)
- Greg A. Bedard gives us five things to watch for when the Patriots face the Buccaneers kick off tonight.
- Mike Reiss lists the players he doesn't expect to play tonight, based on attendance and practice participation level over the last two days.
- Mark Farinella expects tonight's preseason game will feature more of the regulars and have more than a glorified scrimmage feel to it.
- Jim Donaldson bets the Patriots will be ready when it counts - for the season opener in Tennessee - regardless of how they play tonight in Tampa.
- Greg A. Bedard reminds us of how aggressive and dominant the Pats defense looked against the Buccaneers last year before an avalanche of injuries took hold.
- Christopher Price says that with practice opportunities decreasing and the first round of cuts looming, this is a key stretch for some players.
- Tom E. Curran notes Wes Welker didn't take part in Thursday's joint practice, putting the chance he plays on Friday in doubt.
- Mike Reiss tells us why Pepper Johnson and the Pats are a perfect match.
- Tom E. Curran notes Bill Belichick is perceived as someone who thinks he's smarter than everyone else, but he also readily acknowledges the limits of his expertise.
- Field Yates reports Vince Wilfork believes the defense is making strides and his unit is coming together.
- Tom E. Curran reports Brandon Spikes says the Patriots' linebacking crew has a chance to be special if they play to their potential.
- Andy Hart is buying into the energy brought to the defense by Brandon Spikes and Dont'a Hightower. (1.52 min. video) "It's legit."
- Karen Guregian focuses on the inseparable relationship between Brandon Spikes and Pepper Johnson, and how Spikes wants to absorb everything Johnson knows.
- Jeff Howe finds rookie S Tavon Wilson has been working out with the starters this week in Patrick Chung's absence, and has an opportunity to show his stuff.
- Shalise Manza Young notes the Pats-Bucs joint practices are a big hit, but Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano explains they can't be held with just any team.
- Christopher Price reports Vince Wilfork and Devin McCourty pay their respects to Greg Schiano.
- Jeff Howe updates us on the status of rookie "steal of the draft" Alfonzo Dennard. The CB missed 16 sessions with a leg injury but still competing for a roster spot.
- Mike Reiss finds former Patriots WR Tiquan Underwood was thrilled to receive his AFC Championship ring.
- Christopher Price updates his forecast of the final 53.
- Mike Reiss, Mike Rodak and Field Yates update their dueling versions of the Pats' final 53-man roster.
- Mike Rodak notes the NFLPA rejects the IR rule change, and tells us what it means for the Patriots.
- Mike Reiss posts the transcript of his weekly online chat.
- Jeff Howe Patriots Notebook: RB Stevan Ridley realizes he has to tough it through every injury that isn't a break or a tear; Kyle Love was pretty excited about his contract extension - especially with a child on the way; Love is proof that hard work pays off for the undrafted; Wes Welker sat out his first practice Thursday with an unknown ailment.
- Mary Paoletti notes former Patriots safety Rodney Harrison will get his own show on NBC Sports Radio this fall: 'Safety Blitz with Rodney Harrison.'
- Don Banks (SI) 2012 Division Preview: AFC East. "News flash: The Jets haven't exactly narrowed the gap" between NY and NE.
- Frank Reynold (Football Nation) New England Patriots: Predicting offensive starters for Week 1 of the regular season.
- James Walker (ESPN) Checking out John Clayton's QB rankings.
- John Clayton (ESPN) NFL starting QB rankings. Brady No. 2 on his list.
- Highlight Video (YouTube) Ryan Mallett vs. Eagles PS Game 2. (4.54 min. video)
- Chris Burke (SI) Things get closer to the real thing in preseason's Week 3.
- Joe Fortenbaugh (Nat'l Football Post) The New England ripple effect: A profitable betting trend exists if you’re willing to swim in the Patriots’ wake.
- Darin Gantt (ProFootballTalk) Buddy Nix on Patriots: "They don't scare me."
- Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk) Players need to force NFL, officials back to bargaining table.
- Michael David Smith (ProFootballTalk) Goodell: Replacement refs will do "a very credible job."
- Mike Florio (ProFootballTalk) NFL's London chief says league is one step closer to putting a team there.