Tom Brady will seemingly see his first action of the preseason tonight. (USA TODAY Images)
Friday night marks the Patriots’ second exhibition game of the year and should be a night where some of New England’s starters see some action for the first time in 2014.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is among players who will hopefully see time tonight, which will be the first time fans will have seen him throw a football in a live game since New England fell to Denver in the AFC Championship Game back in January.
However, the slate is clean and the outlook for this season appears to be bright given some of the players coming back from injuries, as well as some of the Patriots’ offseason acquisitions. Â These games may be meaningless in the standings, but the reps are valuable in terms of preparing for a long yearÂ and will be ones they’ll use to iron out the kinks as they continue getting ready for the regular season.
Here’s a quick rundown of some things to keep an eye on tonight:
1) WITH TOM BRADY, IT’S ALL ABOUT EXECUTION:
It appears that every offseason moving forward will center around the potential demise of Brady, with quite a few critics circling him like buzzards while looking for any weakness to suggest that he’s no longer as good as he’s continued to be. Â For Brady, the noise doesn’t matter,Â but this is still a key opportunity to makeÂ sure that he and his receivers are able to use this time getting more in sync so they can start better than they did in 2013, most notably in the first half over their first two games.
In the first half of the opener in Buffalo last yearÂ Brady was just 13-of-25 for 122 yards, with the only player he seemed to be on the same page with being Julian Edelman. Â He was 5-of-5 for 31 yards and two touchdowns over the first two quarters when throwing Edelman’s way and the offense was shaky up until the latter part of the game beforeÂ he and Danny Amendola turned it on and started moving the football in the second half.
They also struggled in week two against the Jets, with Brady finishing the first half 11-of-24 for 136 yards, with the quarterback leaning once again on Edelman after completing 7-of-12 over the first two quarters. Â He was just 5-of-17 overall combined for the game when targeting Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, with Brady and Edelman clicking in the second half after catching 6-of-6 passes thrown his way. Â That’s something that can’t happen this season and it would be great if BradyÂ can achieve that type of precision with the other guys around him heading into this year. Â That work starts tonight.
Jimmy Garoppolo looked good last week, but can he follow it up tonight against the Eagles? (USA TODAY Images)
2) CAN GAROPPOLO FOLLOW UP HIS WEEK ONE PERFORMANCE?
Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo was the lone bright spot at quarterback last week after a pretty dismal week one showing offensively for New England, but he showed enough to make the back-up quarterback position a little more interestingÂ given Ryan Mallett’s struggles in that game. Â As a second round pick the expectations are already fairly high for the former Illinois standout, especially given who he’s playing behind.
So far Garoppolo seems to be gaining confidence while Mallett has appeared a little tentative, which is disappointing for anyone hoping to see New England receive any value for him before he hits free agency and likely moves on. Mallett’s availability for tonight seems in question, but should Garoppolo play well against the Eagles, it may set up an interesting situation over these final two weeks given their focus on having plenty of depth at other positions. Â It’s not out of the realm of possibility to carry three quarterbacks, but if he does play,Â Mallett needs to step up and finally have a strong performance. Â He doesn’t get many opportunities to show what he’s capable of and so far, given the sample we’ve seen, he’s definitely not taking advantage of his time on the field.
3) MALCOLM BUTLER LOOKING TO BUILD ON HIS STRONG SHOWING
As the Patriots continue trying to revamp their secondary, Butler was a player who last week was impressive and that’s continued through this week during their joint sessions against Philadelphia. Â The undrafted rookie finished with two passes defensed and six tackles in Washington and so far has actually looked like a player who has been in this defense for a while despite being a newcomer. Â It’s a group that overall is fairly crowded and Butler’s presence only muddies it further, but it’s a problem that New England should be happy to have given how he’s played.
The bigger question now is whether or not he can remain consistent and continue to improve. Â There are still three games to go and tonight’s performance should hopefully be a reasonably good indication of Â what direction he’s headed in. Â However, so far he’s a player who is starting to look like a roster lock if he can keep it up.
For Kenbrell Thompkins, the time is now for him to step up and show he’s a starting NFL receiver. (USA TODAY Images)
4) TIME FOR THOMPKINS TO SHINE
Kenbrell Thompkins has looked good in practice during this preseason but didn’t have a strong showing during his one appearance last week in Washington. Â He was targeted just twice with one reception, having played 29 offensive snaps. Â For a player who is trying to re-establish himself as a starter in this offense, he needs to look like a man among boys when he’s on the field. Â He can’t afford to be just another player and tonight is another opportunity to hopefully have a better performance. Â
To this point he’s seemingly slipped down the depth chart and finds himself behind Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson. Â But the problem he faces now is the fact Brandon LaFell’s stock has been rising, leaving Thompkins and Josh Boyce seemingly at the lower tier of that depth chart. Â As a result, the time is now for the second-year receiver to show everyone what he’s got.
5) HOW WILL REVIS’ PRESENCE AFFECT THE GUYS AROUND HIM?
Friday night may mark the first time fans get their first glimpse of Darrelle Revis in the secondary, which should be interesting in terms of seeing that dynamic and how well he works with Devin McCourty and the rest of that defensive unit. Â There were times in the past where the lack of solid play at corner has put McCourty out of position trying to help out, which was emphasized when that changed following the addition of Aqib Talib to this group.
Once Talib arrived McCourty was able to focus more on his job and having Revis there should once again allow him the same luxury. Revis’ experience and calm demeanor has seemingly already had a positive effect with the other guys and so far they seem to be each working well together.
The good news is this unit already looks completely different from last year’s and it seems like Revis’ impact on the guys around him is having quite a positive effect. Â We’ll see tonight how that translates during what few snaps they ultimately play, but it should be exciting to see them in action.
It should be another interesting game, but hopefully we’ll see additional players take advantage of their opportunities as the team continues the evaluation process building a roster that will hopefully see New England among the NFL’s elite by the end of the season.