New England Patriots Links 8/24/12 - Preseason Week 3: Pats-Bucs Tonight in Tampa

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.

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