Ladies and gents, the time has finally arrived. The offseason is finally over, because at 7:30 tonight, the Patriots will take on the New Orleans Saints at Gillette Stadium to kick off their 2010 preseason.
I for one, love the first preseason game the most because it gives us a solid and extended look at the backups and young players. For many young players and backups, this will be the best chance to showcase themselves in hopes of earning a roster spot. For the starters, it is the first chance to get game experience as they prepare for the regular season.
While the game plan will be very vanilla, and we won't see any creative offensive or defensive packages, we will get to watch our New England Patriots take the field and play some football. That being said, lets look at what tonight has in store for Patriots fans.
Normally, when doing a game thread, I like to provide a list of players to watch on both teams, key injuries, keys to the game, and so on, but tonight, I'm just going to list some "key" players to watch on the Patriots' side.
Players to Watch - Patriots
Tom Brady, QB, #12: Tom Brady has looked sharped in training camp, and it will be interesting to see how he looks now that he's nearly two years removed from his knee surgery. He likely won't play much, but we'll be sure to over-analyze any snaps he does take.
Brian Hoyer, QB, #8: Brian Hoyer impressed a lot of folks with his play in the preseason and limited snaps in the regular season last year. We'll see if he can carry that momentum into 2010, and have a solid game in which he should take the majority of the first team snaps.
Wes Welker, WR, #83: If Wes Welker does play, which I wouldn't completely rule out, I'm sure everyone will be watching that knee of his, including myself.
Brandon Tate, WR, #19: Brandon Tate has had a great training camp thus far, and people are going to see how that translates to the football field. After all, the guy has had only a few snaps of game experience since injuring his knee in college.
Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez: The Patriots had a complete overhaul at the tight end position this offseason, with the two rookies Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski leading the charge. They both should get extended playing time tonight.
Rich Ohrnberger/Ryan Wendell/Dan Connolly/Ted Larsen: Will the real Logan Mankins please stand up? The Patriots are going to need someone to step up at guard for them, so the play of these four at the position will be interesting to watch.
Brandon Deaderick/Kade Weston: There's likely a spot available on the 53 for one of these two rookie defensive ends. With the injuries the Patriots have had at the position, Deaderick and Weston should get plenty of reps tonight.
Brandon Spikes/Jermaine Cunningham: Perhaps the most intriguing pair of players to watch, rookies Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham will likely start at inside and outside linebacker, respectively.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis: Green-Ellis has a lot to do to earn a roster spot at this point. A strong performance tonight will certainly help his case. Benny usually tears it up in the preseason.
Patrick Chung: Patrick Chung is expected to start at strong safety for the Patriots tonight, so we should get a nice look at how his development is progressing.
Greg's Prediction: Patriots 27 Saints 23
Hey, even I can't start the Patriots (pre)season off with a loss. The one thing you've got to remember about the presason is that there always seems to be a lot of field goals. Oh, and my real reason for predicting the Patriots victory, the quarterback matchup. Yes, I'm serious. I'm not the biggest Patrick Ramsey fan, particularly against Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots "b"-fense. All kidding aside, I just can't wait for tonight.