Tonight the Patriots will face the Giants as prospects for both teams make their closing arguments for a roster spot, either on their current team, or for future suitors. With anywhere from 10 to 20 roster spots still up in the air, you can be certain that players will be trying their best to leave a positive impression.
While last week was the generally accepted dress rehearsal for the starters, you can expect most starters to be resting for this team as an injury prevention measure. What is likely more telling is which players aren't on the field. Those will be the roster locks- or in the case of Ryan Mallett, trade bait.
This game is important for all those still striving to obtain their childhood dreams. Let's wish them luck. Here's what you should be watching.
1) Does Stevan Ridley play? - Ever since ESPN's Mike Reiss left Ridley off of his roster projections, people have spun themselves into a tizzy with regards to Ridley's future. Will he make the team? Shane Vereen took the majority of the snaps last week, and fourth round pick James White is a lock. I have a hard time believing that Brandon Bolden will earn a spot over Ridley, but it will be interesting to see how the team manages the plays for the running backs. Does Jonas Gray get to run with the top offense? How about the bottle rocket Roy Finch?
2) Who is the offensive interior? - While Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are the locks at the tackle positions, the trade of Logan Mankins leaves a large vacancy in the middle of the field. All three interior positions are up for grabs, deviating from our expected off-season plans of strengthening the middle of the offensive line. Does Marcus Cannon play guard, is Jordan Devey actually viewed as a starter? Where does Josh Kline play? Does the team like the combo of center Ryan Wendell and guard Dan Connolly? Is Jon Halapio still a dark horse? Lots of questions, but you can be certain these players will be working together late into the game.
3) Tim Wright. - Fairly simple. How does the new addition play? Note that the 235 pound receving tight end will be learning his fourth offense in the past three seasons, but there should be general comfort as two of those offenses were influenced by Greg Schiano, a confidant of Bill Belichick. Don't be surprised to see him getting his feet wet.
4) Who plays with Vince Wilfork? - The departure of Tommy Kelly seems like distant history, but we haven't seen the team function on the field without him. And while Wilfork shouldn't actually play, it's important to see who starts with the top unit. Chris Jones is still recovering from a high ankle sprain, while Sealver Siliga has returned to practice after his hand injury, but it's unknown if he'll play. Does Dominique Easley suit up (it's unlikely)? Does Jerel Worthy get a chance to see playing time with the top unit? It seems highly likely that a duo of Joe Vellano and Worthy will see extended time on the field.
5) Jimmy Garoppolo with the 1s - Jimmy G is getting his first chance to prepare as a starter, but his time at the helm has plenty of undertones. How does Garoppolo fare against a better level of defensive competition? Does he fully supplant Ryan Mallett in the depth chart, allowing the Patriots to carry just two quarterbacks? How does he connect with targets better than the departed Wilson Van Hooser and Justin Jones? How does he handle stronger pressure? Lots to watch with Jimmy when he likely plays the full game, wire to wire.
6) Do any rookies click? - So far, Garoppolo has been the only drafted rookie to leave a lasting positive image (although tackle Cameron Fleming deserves to be named as well). Malcolm Butler and Roy Finch have been bright spots, too, and will continue to make strong cases for their inclusions on the roster. As Easley continues to sit, will any other rookie shine? Will James White finally live up to the lofty expectations? Does Bryan Stork make his way back on the field? Will Zach Moore continue to grow? Will the undrafted linebacker James Morris prove his mettle?
Lots of questions left to be answered. This should be a fun game to watch.