With the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers facing off in the preseason opener tonight, we preview some things to look for and some players to watch:
"Battle" of Perennial Playoff Contenders
Okay, so it’s not really a battle, by any stretch of the imagination. But, the Patriots and the Packers are the only two teams to make the playoffs in each of the last six years. That means that even when we see second and third string players tonight, we’ll at least be seeing very well coached second and third team players.
Tom Brady could play
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady initially was not expected to suit up for tonight’s game, but according to ESPN Boston’s Mike Reiss, that could be changing. Brady is looking to continue his momentum from training camp by getting in some actual game reps. It will be a storyline to monitor in the hours leading up to kick-off.
Many other players not expected to play
As is the usual case with the preseason (and particularly the opener), there are a bunch of Patriots players that are not expected to suit up tonight. There are 20 players that were either non-participants or limited participants in the final practice before the game: Brian Tyms, Dont’a Hightower, Matt Slater, Dane Fletcher, Marcus Cannon, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell, Joe Vellano, Chris Jones, Scott Chandler, Jake Bequette, Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell, Travaris Cadet, LeGarrette Blount, Dion Lewis, Eric Martin, and Nate Solder. Those players are all unlikely to play. In addition, other veterans such as Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, and Jerod Mayo could see very limited playing time.
5 Players to Watch on Offense:
Jimmy Garoppolo, QB: It’s Jimmy time! Regardless of whether or not Tom Brady plays limited snaps, this will be an extended showcase for second year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. No matter what the final score is or who plays particularly well or poor, much of the post-game analysis will be focused on Garoppolo.
Tre Jackson, OG and Shaq Mason, OG: Jackson and Mason, both rookie guards selection in the 4th round, are both battling for potential starting jobs as rookies. Because Ryan Wendell has the ability to play either guard spot, this could be a head to head battle between the rookies.
James White, RB: White will get plenty of reps tonight with the Patriots very thin at the running back position. While it would be encouraging to see him make progress as an every-down back, most are intrigued to see if he can fill the shoes of Shane Vereen as the team’s primary passing back.
Brandon Gibson, WR: With Aaron Dobson and Brian Tyms unlikely to play against the Packers, the opportunity is open for the veteran Gibson, to work his way towards a roster spot. He’s had a strong camp thus far, so it will be interesting to see if he can carry that over to game action.
Five Players to Watch on Defense
Trey Flowers, DE: Flowers was one player that the Patriots were surprised to see still available at the top of round four in this year’s draft. He has intriguing skills as a power player on the edge, and with a strong preseason, could push for playing time as a rookie.
Dominique Easley, DL: This will be Easley’s first preseason game after missing all of last year’s preseason as he recovered from a knee injury. This is the healthiest the 2014 first round pick has been in his brief Patriots career, so the team is going to want to see him build some momentum in game action.
Malcolm Butler, CB: Butler has been the Patriots best cornerback in training camp, and we will see if that translates to trong play running with the top unit tonight. The battle on the rest of the depth chart is just as intriguing, but the Patriots could use a #1, and Butler has the best chance of anyone on the roster to be just that.
Darryl Roberts, CB: Of all the cornerbacks in the draft, Roberts had some of the most intriguing athletic potential (#2 overall SPARQ score). He’s shown some flashes in training camp, with some exceptional pass break-ups, but has yet to put it together consistently. He will be faced with his first game reps against NFL competition tonight.
Jordan Richards, S: Although many scrutinized the Patriots’ selection of Richards in the second round of this year’s draft as a reach, the Stanford product looks ready to contribute from day one for the Patriots. Richards can play a variety of spots, and it will be interesting to see exactly where the Patriots have him line up tonight.