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New England Patriots Links 8/26/10 - Preseason Week 3: Patriots vs. Rams

<em>Here's the kicker: Stephen Gostkowski is now the holder of a shiny new contract extension.  Good play call</em>.
Here's the kicker: Stephen Gostkowski is now the holder of a shiny new contract extension. Good play call.

Mike Reiss offers his list of Ten Things to watch for when the Pats take on the Rams tonight.

1. Banta-Cain, Burgess and the pass rush. This game should be a good measure of the Patriots' ability to generate pressure with a standard four-man rush, specifically from the outside linebacker position. Tully Banta-Cain and Derrick Burgess should start, providing the first look at the likely top combination on the edges. The Rams had protection issues in their first preseason game -- they have two young tackles in Jason Smith (right) and Rodger Saffold (left) -- and are starting a rookie quarterback in Sam Bradford.

2. Laurence Maroney's place on the depth chart. After dressing but not taking a snap last week, the fifth-year running back would seemingly be in line to see his most extended work as part of the rotation the coaching staff has adopted this preseason. Maroney has played just 12 snaps this preseason. If he doesn't get the chance to prove himself Thursday night, it could be viewed as a sign of him slipping behind Fred Taylor, Sammy Morris and perhaps BenJarvus Green-Ellis in their competition.

3. Run-defense gets a good test. They don't get much tougher than Rams running back Stephen Jackson, and so the Patriots' revamped front seven in the 3-4 alignment -- linemen Gerard Warren, Vince Wilfork and Mike Wright, and linebackers Derrick Burgess, Tully Banta-Cain, Jerod Mayo and Brandon Spikes -- will be tested with their "fits" in the running game. Overall, the Patriots have checked out fairly well in this area the first two games.

4. Rotation at inside linebacker. While 2009 starter Gary Guyton returned to practice this week and should play, it looks like rookie Brandon Spikes will still start next to Jerod Mayo. Both could be tested in pass coverage against Jackson, who is also a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. Overall, this will be the first glimpse of how the Patriots might rotate their top three inside linebackers, while also seeing where 2009 third-round pick Tyrone McKenzie, rookie free agent Dane Fletcher and second-year player Thomas Williams potentially fit into the mix.

5. New look of the second-unit offensive line. The reserves on the offensive line struggled last week against the Falcons, which probably sparked the team's trade for Quinn Ojinnaka. Look for Ojinnaka to get his initial work at right tackle as the offensive line is an area the Patriots have some tough roster decisions to make when balancing present needs and future development of young linemen.