The New England Patriots are set to face the Detroit Lions in the third week of the preseason and there is a lot on the line for the players. This is the game where the starters will play the most time and where depth and bubble players will make their strongest case to make the active roster.
In 2016, the Patriots starting offensive line played two-thirds of the game, while key starters like Julian Edelman (25%) and Martellus Bennett (29%) played in the first half. Healthy defenders played roughly 30% of the game, too. In 2015, Tom Brady played 45% of the game, while players like Malcolm Butler, Jamie Collins, and Devin McCourty played more than 50% of the snaps.
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There’s a real chance we could see the Patriots starters for the first half and it wouldn’t be too much of a surprise if they also had a drive after halftime so they feel what it’s like to get back on the field after an extended break.
But while the final score doesn’t really matter, these precious snaps are extremely important for a lot of players on the roster. Here are the 12 players with the most to gain from a strong outing on Friday night, in jersey-numeric order.
RB D.J. Foster - No. 27
Foster is fighting for a roster spot and is currently battling with Brandon Bolden for the fifth spot on the depth chart. While that’s no guarantee for a roster spot, Foster could very well be putting together an audition tape for another team. Foster’s goal is to put together such a strong performance that the Patriots can’t help but clear a roster spot to keep him, especially with Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis free agents after the season.
RB Mike Gillislee - No. 35
Gillislee had a slow start to the preseason as he dealt with a hamstring injury, but prior to the injury he was set up to be the short-yardage back in the Patriots offense. Rex Burkhead took over that role and played well in the second week of the preseason, so Gillislee needs to reassert himself in the depth chart.
SS Jordan Richards - No. 37
Richards is firmly on the roster bubble, but could stick around due to his special teams value and “ability” to back up both safety spots. He struggled in the first preseason game against the Jaguars, but generally stayed out of the spotlight against the Texans. He needs to make a play or two to make a case for a roster spot.
RB Brandon Bolden - No. 38
Like Foster, Bolden is trying to audition for other teams, but head coach Bill Belichick’s undeniable love for Bolden could give him a boost when it comes to roster cuts. But even if Bolden is released, he will receive a glowing recommendation from Belichick.
CB Cyrus Jones - No. 41
Jones had his best outing as a Patriots in week 2 of the preseason against the Texans and he needs to build off of that performance. He was outstanding on special teams and solid on defense; a repeat performance locks Jones on the roster and buys him a longer leash.
EDGE Harvey Langi - No. 48
With Dont’a Hightower and Shea McClellin unlikely to play, Langi will have another week to show his progress as a player. He’s clearly unpolished, but after moving around from position to position in college, he will benefit the most simply by playing one position moving forward. Look for Langi to play for most of the game.
TE Jacob Hollister - No. 48
Hollister didn’t play with the starters in week 2 of the preseason because the coaching staff wanted to see James O’Shaughnnesy, but Hollister will need a repeat of his opening week production to grab control of the third tight end battle.
LB Elandon Roberts - No. 52
Roberts is such an intriguing prospect. He’s boom-or-bust against the run. The coaches love him and he’s a great guy. He struggles in coverage and offers little in special teams value. Roberts is showing his toughness by practicing through his rib injury, but he needs to show that he’s an indispensable early down defender because he doesn’t contribute much on passing downs or special teams.
DL Adam Butler - No. 70
Butler is one of the leading undrafted candidates to make the roster and he’s been playing well as a general defensive lineman, lining up everywhere. With so many injuries to the edge defenders, look for Butler to put a lot of tape together with the top Patriots defense.
OT Cameron Fleming - No. 71
There will be no Nate Solder against the Detroit Lions. LaAdrian Waddle and Tony Garcia are both dealing with injuries. Marcus Cannon did not appear to have pads packed for the trip. Fleming will line up with the top offense and he will have one more chance to win the top swing-tackle role.
WR Austin Carr - No. 84
Like Foster and Bolden, perhaps Carr is mostly making a case to earn a roster spot with another team, but with Matthew Slater still dealing with an injury there’s a chance that Carr could make the team. It’s slim, but that’s why Carr has so much to gain. With Malcolm Mitchell dealing with an injury, Carr should get plenty of time with the second-string offense.
TE James O’Shaughnessy - No. 88
O’Shaughnessy showed strong hands against the Texans, but offered little after the catch. He has obvious special teams ability. He will be going toe-to-toe with Hollister for one of the final roster spots.
EDGE Kony Ealy - No. 94
After some talk of Ealy being on the roster bubble, he’s firmly in place to make the team simply because of all the injuries to the roster. As all of the other edge candidates battle injuries, Ealy will be making his case for a starting job across from Trey Flowers.