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Things to watch for in the Patriots third preseason game

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What to watch for when the Patriots take on the Carolina Panthers tonight in the 3rd preseason game of the year.

NFL: New England Patriots-Training Camp Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots will face the Carolina Panthers in their third preseason game of the year. Many regard the third preseason game as a dress rehersal, although the Patriots head coach agrees to disagree. While the Patriots won’t be running any major scheme plays, they certainly still have fundamentals they can work on in order to prepare for the regular season.

Cohesion of the Offensive Line: The Patriots starting five to start the season will likely be Nate Solder at LT, Joe Thuney at LG, David Andrews at C, Josh Kline at RG, and Marcus Cannon at RT. This OL group should play at least the first half. This game gives this starting five a chance to build some chemistry, especially considering Kline and Cannon have to step up because of injuries to Sebastian Vollmer and Shaq Mason. The OL will be facing a tough front-7 that features star DTs Star Lotulelei and Kawaan Short on the interior and Kony Ealy off the edge. Fortunately, they won’t face a front-7 of that caliber on their regular season schedule although the AFC East does feature some tough defensive fronts. The most important parts to work on are communication and understanding their blocking assignments.

Jimmy Garoppolo faces off against a very tough defense: The Bears and Saints don’t have tough defenses, so playing the Panthers defense will be a major step up. For Jimmy G the evaluation is the same, and that’s how does he run the offense. Things to look for with Garoppolo is how he reads the defense pre/post-snap, how does he utilize the space given to him in the pocket, and how he responds to pressure. So far he’s done well in all three parts against the Saints and Bears. Garoppolo showed that he is very comfortable in an up-tempo, shotgun-based offense similar to the one he played in at Eastern Illinois.

Will Tyler Gaffney win the RB competition: Tyler Gaffney has a chance to put away the competition in this game. I’m not sure how many reps he’ll get with the starting OL, but he should get a considerable amount. While DJ Foster and Joey Iosefa are still on the Patriots roster, Gaffney has a more well-rounded skill set even if he doesn’t have a single standout skill. Foster has been out for most of camp and Iosefa isn’t a serious 53 man roster candidate, so Gaffney has the inside track for a roster spot. If Gaffney has a strong outing, this competition is likely over.

Which UDFA CB makes their mark in this game: The Patriots have a 3-way battle for what could be the final roster spot at the cornerback position between UDFAs Jonathan Jones and Cre’Von LeBlanc as well as 2015 7th round pick Darryl Roberts. So far all three candidates have done as much as they could to make the roster. Rich has LeBlanc as the player with the best chance at the final spot, with LeBlanc showing a willingness to get dirty in the run game as well as prevent yards after catch in a long-yardage situation after giving up a short completion. The third game could wind up as the game where LeBlanc cements his status on the roster, or a slip up could open the door for Jones and Roberts in the final preseason game.