The Patriots have their first game action of the 2015 season when they take on the Green Bay Packers at Gillette Stadium on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.
While many of the starters won’t see a ton of snaps which will probably end by the first quarter but it doesn’t mean that the game isn’t a compelling watch. Traditionally Tom Brady plays little, if at all in the first preseason game. With him facing a suspension, and being in New York for his appeal hearing on Wednesday, it is doubtful he’ll play at all.
Preseason games tend to be a little bit sloppy in execution, as the team has only been practicing in pads for about the past two weeks. The first preseason game as Bill Belichick stated, isn’t a heavy game plan affair, but more in seeing if the fundamentals being taught early in camp are sticking with the players.
There is still plenty to gleam from the game and here are our Five Things to Watch For:
First Chance to Jabaal Sheard and Malcom Brown: The Patriots first dip into the free agency pool was an under the radar signing of Sheard just two days into the normal feeding frenzy. Sheard’s signing didn’t generate a ton of interest but he’s a player that the Patriots were interested in when first came out of college and now is finally a member of the team.
He’s a perfect fit for the New England defense and has been having a very impressive training camp. With starters Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, Sheard should see plenty of work and the Patriots have been tinkering with ways to get all three on the field at the same time in certain situations.
Brown was the Patriots first selection in the NFL Draft this spring with the 32nd overall pick in the first round. The 6’2, 320 rookie from Texas was surprisingly still available at the end of Round 1 and with Vince Wilfork now a member of the Houston Texans, he’ll be looked to provide a big presence, both literally and figuratively in the middle of the Patriots defensive line.
Brown has been coming on during training camp in the last week and after missing a day with a slight injury, he’s one of the more intriguing players to watch on Thursday night as we’ll be watching the future feature of the defense play for the first time.
4th Wide Receiver Battle: The top three WRs in the roster are pretty much locked in Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell and Danny Amendola. Although LaFell has yet to take the field this summer, it only opens up opportunity for the others to step up and make the coaches take a longer look at what they can do. Edelman has missed time with an ankle injury and probably won’t play.
Aaron Dobson had the early advantage during the first week in camp, having a solid series of practices before going down with a hamstring injury that has kept him out of the past week. Brian Tyms who made the roster last season with a solid preseason, got off to a slow start and was injured himself late last week. He returned to practice but it is unknown how much he’ll play, if at all on Thursday.
Josh Boyce and Brandon Gibson have been turning heads with solid work during the practices that so many of the other WRs have missed. Boyce is entering his third season with the team and has yet to make a splash. This would be a perfect time. Gibson is healthy this season and has been dependable in the passing game, making some nice catches this summer.
Jonathan Krause and Chris Harper are long-shots but should see plenty of action in the second half of the game as they try to stick.
Richards, Grissom and Flowers Roles: Three other Patriots rookies with 2nd round draft pick Jordan Richards, 3rd rounder Geneo Grissom and 4th round selection Trey Flowers will be making their first appearances as well.
Richards is an intriguing case, many of the NFL draft pundits were slamming his selection in the second round stating his was at best a late round box safety from Stanford. But his coaches there and Belichick believe he can be much more. “Coach” Richards, as he was known as at Stanford has had an impressive camp thus far, showing the smarts he was known for as well as some nice instinctive play.
But with all five safeties returning from 2014 where will Richards fit and if he does who goes? Tavon Wilson has had an impressive camp thus far and it may come down between he and Nate Ebner on who stays and who goes.
The Patriots already added edge rusher Sheard to the mix along the defensive line and adding to the rotation will be rookies Grissom and Flowers. Both have intriguing possibilities and should see plenty of playing time.
Grissom has more of an athletic upside, he did a bunch of different things at Oklahoma, now Belichick and Matt Patricia will look to play to his best strengths as a pro. Flowers has been solid during camp getting a lot of reps and shows a nice ability to set the edge in the running game and the ability to get after the quarterback.
How Will Rookie Guards Jackson and Mason Hold Up: Another surprise this summer has been how much work the rookie guards Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason have been getting with the first team offense this summer. They were both heavily scouted this spring and were both selected in the 4th round of the NFL Draft in May.
Jackson has been steady this summer and seems to be locked into the right guard slot already. He and center Bryan Stork were teammates at Florida State and should work well together for a long time.
Mason is a road-grader who came from a run heavy offense at Georgia Tech. He is still a work in progress in his pass blocking skills so Thursday night will be a big test for him. With last season’s starter Ryan Wendell still on PUP, Mason is the starter for the time being. A nice performance or two in the first preseason games could signal that the team could be a glimpse into the future of the offensive line. But will the Patriots go with two rookie guards and a 2nd year center? Conventional wisdom says no…but Belichick has never been conventional.
Third Down Running Back, Who Steps Up: With Shane Vereen a member of the Giants, who will take over the 3rd down running back duties that include catching passes out of the backfield and pass blocking for Brady/Garoppolo?
James White and Travaris Cadet are locked into competition and each has had his moments thus far in training camp. White was getting a ton of work early in camp but Cadet was coming on before suffering an injury and missing a few practices.
Don’t discount Brandon Bolden from taking a lot of reps as the third down back. The 4th year player from Mississippi has the most experience and has the size and athleticism to be a three-down back…at least in the interim, until LaGarrette Blount returns.
Dion Lewis and newcomer Tony Creecy will also vie to showcase their talents this week. The competition is wide open and Thursday night’s game against Green Bay will be a perfect time for someone to step up.
What? No talk about the cornerbacks? Their time will come for certain, but the first preseason game isn’t the time to watch them too closely. With little game planning going on, the offenses have the advantage, but keep an eye on rookie Darryl Roberts this week.
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Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 Patriots Training Camp Bill Belichick Brandon Gibson Chandler Jones Danny Amendola Geneo Grissom Jabaal Sheard Jimmy Garoppolo Jonas Gray Jordan Richards Josh Boyce Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler Matt Patricia Nate Ebner New England Patriots Patriots Patriots edge rushers Patriots Training Camp Photos Rob Ninkovich Shaq Mason Tom Brady Tre' Jackson Trey Flowers