This Thursday night, the New England Patriots will be playing the Jacksonville Jaguars at Gillette Stadium at 7:30 PM EST, in their first pre-season game of the season. Football is back, and fans certainly have many reasons to watch.

There is no question that the Patriots will be rusty in all phases of the game. Without the proper off-season that is to be expected. However, it will be interesting to see, and judge how far along the Patriots are in there preparation for their opening game against the Miami Dolphins.

In this game, I think there really is a great deal to watch for. I won’t be just watching players, but I’ll also be looking at the defense, and watching if I notice serious changes on that side of the ball. There are also some real good positional battles that are likely to begin in this game. Here are my  “Five Reasons To Watch The Patriots Pre-Season Game Against The Jaguars.”

1. How will Patriots Defense be aligned Thursday Night? The question so far in training camp has been are the Patriots changing from a 3-4 to a 4-3? Well, we will get our first look in this game to see which defensive alignments they are in, along with some of the personnel groups. The majority of training camp they have been in a 4-3 set, but it wouldn’t shock me to see Coach Belichick come out in a 3-4. Also, I want to see if they are playing the “read and react style of defense”, or will they be “shooting the gaps”, and just going up field? Will they be conservative or aggressive on defense?   Obviously this is an exhibition game so we’re probably not going to see anything to get too crazy about, but I’ll still be focused on the front seven of the defense Thursday night.

2. I want to see What Steven Ridley can bring to the table for the running backs. Reportedly, Ridley has gotten a good amount of reps in training camp. He is a power back, and I am very curious to see what he can offer to the Patriots offense. He is a third round draft pick out of LSU. Could he contend with Benjarvus Green-Ellis to become the starting running back? I think we will get an idea where he stands on Thursday. This is a player to seriously keep an eye on in this game.

3. How will Nate Solder adapt quickly on the offensive line? The Patriots playbook is complicated, and I will be curious to see how far Solder has come in a short period of time. He is a first round draft pick from Colorado and plays tackle. It might be asking too much for him to contend for a starting position, but we might get a glimpse of the future with his play in this game. Hopefully he can learn from Matt Light and someday be his successor. His play in this game is a definitely on my radar.

The battle for the 4th wide receiver spot should be interesting to watch tonight. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

4. The battle for the 4th wide receiver begins. With Brandon Tate being out of practice for a bit, Julian Edelman and Taylor Price have a chance to get a leg up in this competition. Edelman in his time has flashed, and especially in the pre-season. I want to see if we see continued progress from this player.

Price reportedly has looked very good lately in practice. However, this will be his first chance to show it against another team this season. The opportunity for Price to take a leap forward is there for him. I will be watching to see if he jumps.

5. Will Ryan Mallett show us a glimpse of the future? The rookie quarterback is a third round draft pick from Arkansas, and is expected to get some reps tonight. Some scouts had him going in the first round. He certainly has the arm for the position, but his attitude has been questioned. Also, does he have the quick decision making ability we expect here from our quarterbacks?

Watching him will be fascinating to see what kind of talent he can display. I watched him a great deal in college and while he does have some ability, I wonder if he have the mentality to be a pro quarterback? We will get our first look at Mallett in action Thursday night.

I know there are many other reasons to watch this game as well. There will be many fans that will be interested in seeing how Chad Johnson  looks and performs in a Patriots uniform. How about Tom Brady, and does he look rusty or sharp? How will the new defensive lineman like Andre Carter and Mark Anderson play?

Whatever reason you have as fan to watch, this should be a fascinating pre-season game. It all begins Thursday night against the Jaguars.