As the Patriots head into the third game of the preseason, cuts are imminent on the horizon. Teams have to whittle the roster from 90 players down to 75 on August 25th so this will be the final audition for many prospects. What makes it even more difficult for these players is how teams use the third week as a dress rehearsal for the Week 1 starters.
The uphill climb is getting steeper.
Still, while last week might have been the most important for the players on the roster, this week will be the most revealing. This is what you need to watch.
1) Running with the 1s - While Jordan Devey is the only player in football to play every single snap this preseason, his exact ranking on the roster is unknown. Does he get the nod with the actual first team offensive line? Was the team just trying him out since they already know what they are getting from players like Josh Kline? The actual offensive line depth chart will take form and we'll likely see some familiar or hopeful players fall behind.
No matter the position, who gets the starting nods in this game will actually hold some value. Does Brandon LaFell start over Kenbrell Thompkins? Is Stevan Ridley in the dog house? Who starts at safety next to Devin McCourty? How does the rotation at defensive tackle? Like Devey, does the team actually view Malcolm Butler as a potential starting cornerback, or are they just testing the waters?
2) Justin Jones redux - The odds of Jones making the team is slim-to-none, although the chances of him spending the season on the Patriots new 10 player practice squad is increasing. No team signed him when he was off the team, so the Patriots won't have to worry about stashing him. However, he still needs to show improvement over his last outing where he dropped his one target and didn't look natural. With D.J. Williams off the roster and Rob Gronkowski still a question mark for game time, it's likely that Jones will get more chances to prove his worth.
3) Injured Product - Players like Aaron Dobson, Dominique Easley, Jerod Mayo, and others are still fairly fresh off of their injuries. Will these three players even see the field (Doubtful, Maybe, and Probable)? And how do players like Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, who have looked excellent coming off of their injuries, continue their strength building?
4) Red Zone Output - Can you picture the Patriots putting Gronk (6'6), Jones (6'8), Dobson (6'3), LaFell (6'2), and Brian Tyms (6'2) on the field in the red zone? That has to result in a touchdown every time, right? Bill Belichick loves situational football so it will be fun to watch how he and Josh McDaniels manage the Patriots red zone opportunities.
5) Pass Protection - Nate Solder hasn't been his normal excellent self this preseason, Logan Mankins will be his solid self, but he's been up and down in recent seasons, the center and right guard still isn't determined, and Sebastian Vollmer has been missing practice, which places Marcus Cannon at starting right tackle. The Panthers have a terrific defensive front seven. If the Patriots current offensive line can hold strong against the Panthers, they'll be fine for the season. If the unit struggles to keep Tom Brady upright, then this team might need to make changes to keep him safe.