The New England Patriots’ preparations for the 2019 season enter their next phase later today: preseason is upon us, and the reigning world champions will open it on the road against the Detroit Lions. While a sizable portion of the team’s roster is not expected to see the field tonight — including Tom Brady and the majority of the other starters — the game still presents another opportunity for players prove their value to the team.
Now is therefore also the perfect time for the Patriots’ training camp standouts to show that their practice performances were no fluke. Over the first eleven sessions, a number of players jumped off the proverbial page either by exceeding expectations and/or by quickly getting up to speed after only being acquired this offseason. But while they did it in a comparatively secure environment, they now have to show they can also do it in a game.
It is only preseason, yes, but the elements are essentially the same as they will be during the regular season: the environment is the most competitive the Patriots have seen since their win in Super Bowl 53, and for some players it is their first big taste of what it is like to play a (road) game in the NFL. While practice builds the foundation for in-game performance, it still needs to be properly translated from one field to the other.
So which camp standouts are particularly in the spotlight tonight? Some of them have already been listed in the ‘8 players to keep an eye on’ story written by colleagues Michael McDermott and Aidan Curran: wide receiver Maurice Harris, for example, has looked like a roster lock so far in training camp and now needs to take another step to strengthen his standing on the team. The same goes for impressive rookie punter Jake Bailey.
The two first-year Patriots are far from the only players that have flashed their talents in practice. Take another wide receiver who can be classified as a ‘winner’ of camp so far: undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers has arguably been the biggest surprise of the summer due to his spectacular catches and encouraging chemistry with Tom Brady. And while New England’s quarterback will likely not play, Meyers still needs to show he can compete in an actual NFL game.
The same goes for other rookie players — from defensive edge Chase Winovich, who is entering tonight’s game coming off an outstanding week of joint practices, to quarterback Jarrett Stidham and cornerback D’Angelo Ross. All three of them were, like Meyers, able to show steady improvement over the last two weeks. Now, it is time for them to take the next step towards positioning themselves well in the battle for roles or roster spots.
For defensive linemen Derek Rivers, Shilique Calhoun and Danny Shelton, today’s game carries a similar meaning. All three veterans have had some very good moments this summer. Can they repeat them against the Lions tonight? Or will they be ineffective when the stakes are higher? We will find out soon — and by extension get another glimpse at their potential future with the Patriots between making the team or being let go.
While the game does not count in the standings, it is therefore certainly worth keeping a close eye on. And on top of that: it’s football season again, folks!