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Players Who Helped Themselves

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Which players improved their chances of making the team and potentially a starting role.

Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Due to dinner plans, I missed most of the 2nd half of the game and based on the GDT it wasn't very pretty. Another piece to note is that the 2015 Rookie class and the starting secondary had impressive games as a unit. The defensive line showcased the sheer amount of talent that is there. Overall, if you ignore the horror show in the 2nd half, there were a lot of positives to take away. The Patriots starters and most of their second stringers performed very well in this game, but the long shots also showed why they're considered long shots.

Offense

Shaq Mason - Mason isn't even close the best pass protector and did give up one of many sacks to Jimmy Garoppolo, but he did show off that impressive run blocking we were promised. On Jonas Gray's touchdown, he pulled around the edge and picked up the linebacker about 10 yards downfield and drove him back. With Packers safety Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix trying to fill the hole quickly, he ended up tripping over his teammate and that was all she wrote for the Packers defense and Gray easily scampered into the end zone. Mason's run blocking did bring back some Logan Mankins flashbacks and pulling is clearly his best strength. Mason has a golden opportunity to try to win the starting LG job and so far hasn't given me any reasons to think he can't. His pass protection still needs a lot of work, but he's learning quickly and having to adjust to a different style of offense.

James White - I'm a big fan of James White and after this game, I'm sure there are more people in his camp. When the Patriots drafted White, I felt that they did so with the 2015 season in mind. With Shane Vereen playing for the New York Giants, the Patriots need to find someone to step into that receiver role. With Travaris Cadet, Brandon Bolden, and Dion Lewis sitting this game out it was the golden opportunity for James White to showcase his skills. White proved to be a very effective receiver from out of the backfield and caused a lot of missed tackles in the open field. He also had some nifty runs around the edge. He should provide a nice change-of-pace to the big and physical LeGarrette Blount and Jonas Gray. The biggest thing for James White to work on is picking up blitzes, he's still a bit inexperienced in that field. There were some good pickups and some horrendous pickups. I think that's fixed with more reps.

Jonas Gray - Speaking of Jonas Gray, it looked like he was in his Indy killer form in the first half. With injuries to the RB position, Gray had a golden opportunity to show why he should get a significant amount of carries. Gray is physical, but is also very nimble when it comes to running around arm tackles. One takeaway here is that Gray showed that last year's game against the Colts wasn't a fluke and that he was embarrassed after what happened when he got put in the doghouse. Jonas Gray is going to be important to the team's success because you don't want to overwork Blount over the course of the season and you can never predict injuries. I would not be surprised if both players exceeded 150 carries for the 2015 season if they are both healthy. A three-headed monster of Blount, Gray, and White should be fun to watch, unless you are an Indianapolis Colts fan.

Defense

Malcolm Butler - The one thing I love about Malcolm Butler is the way he competes. Last year, he was an unheralded free-agent rookie from a Division-II program that ended up making arguably the biggest interception in New England Patriots history. Now that he has the chance to be the guy, he continued to show that competitive fire and made Packers receivers earn every catch. Butler was targeted 3 times and yielded only 1 catch, in which he immediately provided a big hit on the receiver to bring him down. Butler really shined in the goal-line series, denying Davante Adams on a fade route. Last year, Butler had to scrap for everything just to make the roster and he's kept that same attitude this year. I can't wait to see him go against the Steelers.

Jabaal Sheard - Sheard rotated in for snaps on the starting defense and did a solid job. Sheard spent most of the first half on the field and once the Packers backup OL came in, he dominated. On back-to-back plays he disrupted passes with a hurry on the first play after defeating a double team, then drawing a hold after being tackled by his blocker. Sheard has wasted no time fitting into the program and will be a pivotal piece to the defense moving forward. Sheard wasn't the only defensive linemen who was disruptive.

Trey Flowers - Flowers is a player who I thought should have been drafted in the 2nd round because he had great production in college. Flowers boasts a wingspan of longer than 7', which is absolutely crazy for a football player. Flowers picked up his first NFL sack by avoiding a David Bakhtiari cut block attempt then jumping all over Aaron Rodgers. His injury situation does bear monitoring, although I think the worst thing that happened was a concussion based on the replays. You can't predict injuries, but it looks like he's more than an able backup and could help the defense out if called upon.

Rufus Johnson - Johnson isn't on anyone's radar to make the roster, but he has certainly changed that. Johnson dominated against the Packers 2nd and 3rd string offensive line and frequently disrupted the timing of the offense. He also left the game due to injuries, but from what I've seen on Twitter, it isn't very serious. The only problem for Johnson is there isn't a lot of room in the Front 7 to accomodate a roster spot for, but it's possible he could fill Blount's roster spot for Week 1 and he gets moved to the practice squad afterwards.

Geneo Grissom - Grissom is one of those "Belichick knows more football than you" picks. Grissom was rated as a 6th-7th round pick by most draft sites, but from listening to BB's press conference that this guy had talent. Grissom frequently re-established the line of scrimmage 2-3 yards into the backfield and killed a couple runs from the edge as well. Compared to most rookie pass rushers, he's very raw and likely needs time to develop before he's ready to contribute on the defense during the regular season. Based on the way that Belichick gushed about Grissom back in May, it's possible the Patriots use him like a chess player. Expect him to line up anywhere from 3-technique to outside linebacker.