The third preseason game is often a tune up for the starters going into the regular season, many of them playing at least the first half and some of them into the 4th quarter. With most of the starting offense sidelined during the first two games of preseason we will likely get to see most, if not all of them in action. The same came be held true on the other side of the ball, we could see the starting linebackers in action as well as the starting secondary. That likely means McCourty playing at safety for the game. It's important for the team to be clicking on all cylinders in this game, although it's not too indicative of early regular season success if there are a couple starters unable to play.
Progression of the Rookie Guards: The Patriots two 4th round picks, Shaq Mason and Tre Jackson, have seen the most action at the two guard spots in preseason. Tre Jackson has come as advertised so far, a phone booth player with very good anchor in pass protection. He's set to be the team's starting right guard in the Week 1 game against the Steelers. On the other side, Mason hasn't been so consistent. Due to lack of better options on the roster, the Patriots have been sending out Mason for most of the preseason games at left guard. It should be interesting to see if he gets the start against the Panthers, who have a very good defensive Front 7. If Mason can hold his own against the Carolina Panthers, that may put to bed any speculation of him not starting.
New Twist on the #4 WR Camp Battle: I published the current update of the camp battle before the news of the Patriots waiving Brian Tyms, the report of Brandon Gibson tearing an ACL, and the signing of Reggie Wayne. With those three news nuggets, the only players left in that camp battle are Reggie Wayne, Aaron Dobson, and Chris Harper. With Brandon LaFell still on the Physically Unable to Perform list, Dobson's status likely elevates to the starting split-end receiver. That means that Harper and Wayne are likely competing for a single roster spot. Wayne is a 14-year veteran who caught passes from one of the best QBs in the NFL in Peyton Manning and was a possession target for Andrew Luck. Wayne is one of the more intelligent WR to play the game and if he can pick up the offense would likely beat out Harper for at least a 46-man roster spot. On the other side, Harper has the Special Teams advantage as a return man. Harper's kick returns don't look very good, but his punt returns have been solid so far. It should be interesting to see how this plays out.
Starting OL: Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are both finally healthy and able to play, which is a good sign considering the Patriots' lack of available OT depth behind them. With Jackson and Mason likely starting at the two guard positions, that leaves starting center Bryan Stork's status up in the air. It would be nice to see him suit up and play in this game to give a preview of the starting offensive line for Week 1. Behind him, both UDFA center David Andrews and 3rd year player Josh Kline have done a solid job at the center position. While Andrews and Kline can probably replicate the on-field play that Stork brings, the one thing they miss is the leadership aspect. Stork is making calls at the offensive line and lining everyone up correctly and the Patriots need him on the field. The OL will be going against a very stout Front 7 and any form of success here would be appreciated.
Starting Back 7: I'm not too worried about the Front 4 of the defense. They have quality starters and depth at all four spots and all of them are able to go. The more concerning part of the defense is at linebacker and the defensive backfield, particularly at the cornerback position. I'm not sure if Hightower and Mayo will participate in this game, although I would like to see at least one of them be able to go. Behind the starting trio is Jonathan Freeny and James Morris, who are quality backups but would not be a good thing to see them play a lot of regular season snaps in one game. In the defensive backfield, I have Malcolm Butler and Tarell Brown as the starting corners with Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung as the starting safeties. I also have Robert McClain manning the slot with Bradley Fletcher and Logan Ryan serving as depth in case of injuries. I believe the Patriots defense will finish Top 10 in fewest points allowed this year, particularly because all 11 of their starters are at least average or better. There might not be many household names, but they shouldn't be underestimated. Although Carolina's receiving corps outside of TE Greg Olsen isn't exactly scaring defensive coordinators, the defense could alleviate a lot of fears with a solid performance.
Health: The Patriots have suffered at least one major injury so far in each preseason game. In the first game, they lost Darryl Roberts to a dislocated wrist along with Trey Flowers with a concussion and chest injury. In the second game, they lost Gibson to a torn ACL in the right knee. The Patriots depth has stretched a bit thin at the WR and RB position although key players are starting to return. If the Patriots can avoid any more major injuries in this game to key players, that would be nice to see regardless of the final score.