Patriots vs. Saints: Defensive Players to Watch

Aug 7, 2012; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones runs through drills during a joint practice with the New Orleans Saints at the teams practice facility. Mandatory Credit: Stew Milne-US PRESSWIRE

Five players to watch on defense as the Patriots prepare to play the Saints in tonight's preseason opener:

Chandler Jones, DE: Jones is the Patriots' prized first round pick, who was seemingly already jumped into the starting defensive front for the Patriots. All eyes will be on Jones, as the Patriots ability to pressure the quarterback in 2012 will depend heavily on Jones' development.

Dont'a Hightower, LB: Much like Jones, Hightower is a prized first round pick expected to play a major role for the Patriots early - he's already working with the starters on defense. Many view Hightower as a DROY candidate who at a minimum should be an important contributor for the Patriots defense.

Devin McCourty, CB: McCourty's struggles in 2011 have been well documented. The success of the Patriots pass defense in 2012 could very well depend on McCourty's ability to rebound and perform well. Against a talented Saints' offense, McCourty should get tested early.

Steve Gregory, S: The Patriots seemingly had a never-ending safety rotation in 2011 - they simply couldn't find any consistency at the position. The team signed Gregory in the offseason to help shore up the back-end and bring it some consistency. This will be Gregory's first game action, and it will be interesting to see how much of an improvement he is over what the team had at the position last year.

Ras-I Dowling, CB: Dowling has had a tremendous training camp to this point, and with a strong preseason performance, could vault himself into a starting role. And while Dowling has looked good in training camp, it's sometimes tough to tell how good without live tackling. Tonight could give us an initial indication of where Dowling is.

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