As the Patriots get set for their second preseason game tonight, here are 10 things I’ll be watching tonight when the two teams take the field, in no order of importance.
10) All eyes on Ron Brace – Brace is a former 2nd round draft pick last season, and with the injury to Ty Warren has an opportunity to earn a spot on the roster. Clearly he’ll need to come out strong after failing to pass the conditioning test for two weeks, but obviously he’s got plenty of potential and hopefully he’ll show us something tonight.
9) What to expect from Devin McCourty? – He played pretty well in coverage last week, and his kickoff returns left fans buzzing after last week’s game was over. The question now will be will he have the same success this week against a different football team? One would have to like his chances, as the Falcons allowed an average of 38 yards per kickoff return, including one for 42-yards last week against Kansas City.
8) Will Wes Welker play tonight? – Conventional wisdom tells me that we won’t see him this evening. It’s still a bit early in his rehabilitation since he started facing live contact, but I’m assuming head coach Bill Belichick isn’t thrilled with the idea just yet of having opponents wrap his legs up at this point. So I doubt we’ll see him tonight.
7) Who starts tonight at runningback? – Last week it was BenJarvus Green-Ellis who had the majority of carries, with Laurence Maroney not coming in until much later in the game, which happened to be inside the 20. I’m curious to see who gets the start, and more importantly how well they perform. I thought Green-Ellis played pretty well with the first offense, and so far it appears that he’s making a pretty good case for the Patriots to find a place for him on the depth chart.
6) Myron Pryor, will he improve this week? – Watching him last week while putting my play-by-play game diary together, I watched on more than one occasion where he was pushed completely out of the way and taken out of several plays. Obviously with Warren out there’s another roster spot available up front, but Pryor definitely needs to play better last week. Getting pushed around isn’t going to help him earn playing time, and one would hope that won’t happen again this week.
5) Can Zoltan Mesko reproduce another gem? – Mesko punted five times last week and averaged 43.8 yards, including 3 of those inside the 20. Again, in this league teams look for consistency at that position, but so far Mesko has definitely been a big upgrade over the departed Chris Hanson.
4) Left guard still under the microscope – Will it be Dan Conolly who solidifies a spot for himself in Logan Mankins’ absence? So far through one game Connolly has made a good case for himself, including a great block last week that lead to a touchdown run. Hopefully we’ll see him improve on that this week.
3) Brandon Spikes’ play – He played really well last week, and I’m looking forward to watching him tonight as well. He was all over the field last week against the Saints, and so far has lived up to the hype. It would be nice to see a big play from him this week as he looks to take things to the next level.
2) Marques Murrell’s performance – For the first time in quite a while Murrell showed signs that the Patriots may be able to put together some semblance of a pass rush this year. He played well last week and was seen consistently getting into the Saints backfield. Hopefully we see more of that from him this week.
1) Derrick Burgess returns – Burgess has missed the start of the preseason due to “personal issues” and is expected to play tonight. His role in the defense is reportedly going to be different this season, and I’m curious to see exactly what that means when he takes the field tonight against the Falcons.