With two joint practices that got rather feisty in the rear-view mirror, the New England Patriots and Carolina Panthers will meet on the Gillette Stadium turf Friday night for their second game of the preseason.
For the first time this summer, New England’s healthy starters are expected to take the field. If they follow a similar schedule as they did last year against Philadelphia in the preseason, the starters will likely play two or three series.
Carolina’s starters will not see the field, as head coach Matt Rhule told reporters he plans on playing most of his “twos and threes” Friday night.
In the eyes of New England, here is one player per position to watch Friday night.
Quarterback: Mac Jones
No surprise here, as this will be the first time we will see Jones in live action this offseason. Jones has looked more comfortable of late in the new-look offense, specifically pushing the ball down the field. While the game plan should be watered-down, a quality night from QB1 would be an encouraging sign.
Running back: Ty Montgomery
Often the first Patriots’ running back on the field in two-minute situations, Ty Montgomery had a busy pair of joint practices. He continued to impress in pass-catching situations while showcasing his versatility lining up at both wide receiver and running back. New England seems committed to giving Montgomery a role right off the bat this season.
Wide receiver: Kendrick Bourne
While Tyquan Thornton will always have our eye and Nelson Agholor looks to build off a pair of strong joint practices, Bourne is the choice here. He has had an alarmingly quiet camp and did not have a great showing this week against Carolina.
On Tuesday, he was tossed from a drill for an apparent uniform violation — which drew some choice words from a nearby Bill Belichick — and then was tossed from the session entirely for fighting. He then spent most of Wednesday’s practice running with the second unit. The hope is Bourne is more of a game-day player, so perhaps he will dial it up tonight in his action.
Tight end: Jonnu Smith
Smith will likely see limited playing time, but his usage has been fascinating throughout camp and against Carolina these past few days. The Patriots seem committed to getting their tight end more involved this year, employing him in a number of ways to directly feed him the football.
Offensive line: Yodny Cajuste
The Patriots are beat up along their offensive line as Isaiah Wynn, Bill Murray, Justin Herron, and Yasir Durant were all absent from practice Wednesday. With Wynn and Herron still sidelined, Yodny Cajuste, who is having the best camp of his career according to Bill Belichick, will have a big opportunity at right tackle with the starting unit.
A strong performance might not only secure him a roster spot, but perhaps a significant, or even starting, role.
Defensive line: LaBryan Ray
The battle among the depth defensive linemen has become a notable one between Ray, fellow rookie Sam Roberts, and veteran Daniel Ekuale. As for Ray, he has impressed all summer lining up in numerous spots along the D-line. He appeared to be moving up the depth chart this week in joint practices and a strong Friday night could give him the inside track as the next UDFA to make the Patriots’ 53-man roster.
Edge: Ronnie Perkins
Perkins is behind Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche on the depth chart after a quiet training camp thus far. The sophomore needs to show his capability in the run game to get real playing time. It seems too early to give up on the 2021 third-round pick, so Perkins will likely be a depth piece along the edge. He has been a factor on numerous special team units, however.
Linebacker: Cameron McGrone
One of the more hyped-up members of the Patriots’ offseason has also had a quiet camp. McGrone is firmly behind Raekwon McMillan and Mack Wilson on the linebacker depth chart, with the two veterans continuing to be solid off-the ball options.
As for McGrone, his speed and athleticism certainly stand out. After missing over a year with a torn ACL, perhaps he starts to find his footing with more and more snaps.
Cornerback: Terrance Mitchell and Shaun Wade
With Malcolm Butler’s season over after landing on the injured reserve, the final cornerback spot may come down to either Terrance Mitchell or Shaun Wade.
Mitchell was a fixture across from Jalen Mills to open camp, but he has since taken a backseat as the Patriots continue to use Jonathan Jones along the boundary. As for Wade, the once highly-touted Ohio State prospect continued to string to together impressive performances in camp after what was already a strong preseason opener.
Safety: Jabrill Peppers
Peppers’ workload increased the past week as he took part of competitive team drills for the first time all summer. We will see if that means he is full steam ahead Friday night, but his energy was noticeable on the practice field. He had a nice pass breakup in the flat and generated pressure on several blitzes.
Peppers, who is coming off a torn ACL, is yet another strong piece in the Patriots’ loaded safety room.
Special teams: Brenden Schooler
Undrafted rookie free agent Brenden Schooler continues to make a very strong push for a roster spot. After a solid preseason opener on the kick coverage and return teams, Schooler laid the wood again in Wednesday’s practice taking out a Carolina returner. He’s earned high praise from Patriots players and coaches alike.