With the New England Patriots’ first preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles just a day away, we’ve brought back our roundtable discussion series. This week, since it’s the preseason, we’re keeping our discussion to just two questions. We lead off with the following discussion question:
Which position group are you most anticipating watching in the Patriots' preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles?
Adam Fox: The wide receivers, and it's not even close. No other position was surrounded by so many question marks going into the season, and this will be our first chance to see if Belichick's various acquisitions at wideout throughout the draft and free agency will meaningfully and convincingly stick. We're all excited to see if the rookies will be able to generate some much-needed impact in their inaugural seasons (and if TC is any indication, they will) but I'm most anticipating the arrival of Danny Amendola. We all know what the obscenely athletic guy can do--when healthy, he could be a tier above our beloved Wes Welker--but that's quite the gaping hole he'll attempt to patch on offense. Not only was Welker integral to the Patriots' ability to sustain drives, but Amendola comes in as the most experienced receiver on the roster not named Michael Jenkins (who is far from a lock). There's an almost unfair level of expectation placed on Amendola's shoulders going into 2013, but he could just as easily flourish with a quarterback of Tom Brady's caliber throwing him the rock.
Kevin O’Connor: I am most excited to watch the defensive line. At training camp I have spent the majority of my time watching offensive drills, not by choice, but because from the stands it’s impossible to get a perfect view of one-on-one OL/DL drills or defensive grouping drills, since the defense practices on the far end of the field. I think I have a good sense of what I’ll see on offense but would like to get a better idea of what the defense will be like this season. As expected, in 11-on-11’s we have seen the Patriots mix up different fronts, and we have seen how multiple players have been utilized, but I want to see these players go one-on-one against real NFL talent. I haven’t gotten a good chance to see Chandler Jones display his new pass rushing moves, though he has put on more weight. I want to see Tommy Kelly in live-game action because in limited time watching him at training camp, he looks extremely fast off the line of scrimmage.
Alec Shane: The linebacking corps for sure. The Patriots currently have 10 ‘backers on their roster, all of whom represent varying skillsets, and it will be interesting to watch the coaching staff experiment with and insert various combinations into game situations. Mayo, Hightower, Spikes, Fletcher (who is a bit of a forgotten asset after last preseason’s knee injury), Ninkovich, Collins…there’s a lot to work with there, and I can’t wait to see which linebacker rotation proves to be most effective.
Rich Hill: I'm most excited to watch the defensive line. A lot of people will be focusing on the development of the wide receivers or the defensive backs, but I'm most interested in the grouping that surrounds Vince Wilfork.
First, I'm really intrigued by the line play because that's where the game is won- the trenches. I believe that New England will have some semblance of consistency with Wilfork and Rob Ninkovich- but how has Chandler Jones grown? Who will step up as the rotational substitute? Who plays next to Wilfork? How does Tommy Kelly play?
A lot of questions and a lot of information to be processed before analyzing the defense's front line.
Greg Knopping: While I was tempted as heck to go with the wide receivers, I’ll change it up a bit. I’m really excited to see the defensive backs play on Friday. For the first time in quite some time, the Patriots actually have consistency year over year, as they return Aqib Talib, Alfonzo Dennard, Kyle Arrington, Devin McCourty, and Steve Gregory. They’ve also added a pair of high draft picks in cornerback Logan Ryan and safety Duron Harmon. And of course, they made the high-profile free agent pick-up in veteran safety Adrian Wilson.
In recent years the defensive backfield has been one of the biggest areas of concern heading into the preseason. And this year, it’s flown a bit under the radar… and that’s a good thing. The defensive backfield has been consistent in training camp. Nonetheless, tomorrow will be the group’s first game action, and I’m intrigued to see if the unit has developed as we all have hoped.