“There are no dress rehearsals, we are professionals, this is the big time”, Willie Nelson
The Patriots traveled to Carolina on Thursday for their Friday evening preseason game against the Carolina Panthers. The game has a 7:30 p.m. kickoff and will be carried locally on WBZ TV with Dan Roche and Christian Fauria on the call. Matt Chatham will handle the sideline analyst duties.
Bill Belichick stated earlier this week that the team was handling this week’s game as a regular season contest in terms of team meeting scheduling, practices and game plan preparation. It gives the players, especially the rookies their first chance to experience the normal work schedule of an NFL game week.
With some of their injured players returning to practice this week, here are five things to watch for in Friday night’s game:
How Long Will Tom Brady Play?: Normally, you’d expect Brady to play at least the first half or perhaps into the third quarter of this one, the big tune up for the season opener. Brady has only played a handful of snaps during the first two games and hasn’t been on the field for any offensive drive, picking up only one first down.
But these aren’t normal times. Still facing a four-game suspension, with no settlement in sight, Belichick will have to make the call as to whether to play Brady the normal amount one would expect in the third preseason game or split the reps with Jimmy Garoppolo to prep him for what could be a quarter of the season’s starts.
I’d look for Brady to still play most if not all of the first half. Garoppolo will have to prep himself in the second half against mainly backups.
Right Cornerback…who’s on first?: Last week in New Orleans, safety Devin McCourty slid over to right corner to start the game. And Drew Brees and the Saints went right after him with Brandin Cooks. McCourty made it clear that he’d rather not play corner and remain at safety after the game.
Tarel Brown seems to be the most logical choice here; he’s been the most consistent of the corners after Malcolm Butler and looks more like the guy who was a solid member of the Niners secondary than the one who struggled in Oakland last season. He’s been recovering from a foot injury suffered last season and the team has been cautious with his workload. But I’d expect him to get the start on Friday and against Pittsburgh.
Bradley Fletcher and Logan Ryan have had forgettable summers to this point. While both have made plays at times, neither has been nearly consistent enough to earn the starting job. Rookie Darryl Roberts was off to a good start but injured his wrist in the Green Bay game and seems destined for either IR or IR with the designation to return. Robert McClain looks to be the slot corner for 2015 taking over for the departed Kyle Arrington. This is one position where the team could be scouring the waiver wire, especially if Roberts reverts to IR.
Reggie Wayne Debut: After signing the 14-year vet this week, Wayne has been getting a crash course on the Patriots offense this week. It is one of the most intricate passing offenses in the NFL and many wide receivers have taken awhile to catch on….Wayne doesn’t have that luxury.
While it is unfair to expect him to have everything down pat after just a few days of practice this week, look for him to get some early play with Tom Brady as the coaches will want to see them generate some chemistry on the field.
Wayne is a polished route-runner who if he still has some gas left in the tank could be a nice addition to the passing game as the third or fourth option. Friday night will be the first look to see if Wayne can still get that separation and be effective.
Third Down RB,….Paging Mr. Cadet: One of the most intriguing questions surrounding this season’s Patriots offense was who was going to take over Shane Vereen’s role as the third down back. Vereen was very effective as a pass blocker and provided a mismatch when the team spread him out wide in the passing game.
This year’s candidates include second-year RB James White, Dion Lewis and former Saints RB Travaris Cadet. Lewis was very effective against the Saints displaying a nice burst in the running game and being elusive catching the ball out of the backfield. White was solid in both preseason games and has been consistently improving as time goes on.
Cadet is the guy with the most experience and was seemingly taking the position over in early August with a serious of good performances in training camp. But he was injured and hasn’t been back on the field. This week would be a perfect opportunity for the tallest RB (6’1) to show what he can do in the passing game. Otherwise he could find himself unemployed shortly.
Veterans To Play or Not to Play: We’re still waiting to see our first glimpses on the field of Julian Edelman, Rob Gronkowski, Scott Chandler on offense as well as Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower on defense this preseason.
Edelman and Chandler have been dinged up by injuries during training camp but have returned to practice this week. Gronkowski has been a full participant and is healthy but the team has just opted to limit his reps thus far, erring on the side of caution. The absence of these players as well as Brandon LaFell (PUP), has limited the effectiveness of the first team offense. It would a nice preview of what the regular season offense will resemble to see these players get a sniff of the field this week.
Both Mayo and Hightower are recovering from injuries and/or surgery this offseason. Mayo has been a full participant since training camp opened and has been a physical, athletic presence in the middle. Hightower, after shoulder surgery right after the Super Bowl, started training camp in a red non-contact jersey but has been practicing back in his blue jersey for the past few weeks.
It will be a nice boost for the defense to see both of them to get back on the field for a a look at how the unit will look with all of its moving pieces back in place.
The Patriots and Panthers should provide a nice look at as close to a regular season game you’ll find in August. While the game plans for each team will largely still be pretty vanilla, the game should be more entertaining the normal preseason fodder. The regular season opener is less than two weeks away.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2015 NFL Preseason 2015 NFL Season 2015 Patriots Training Camp 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Brandon LaFell Carolina Panthers Chris Harper Danny Amendola Dont'a Hightower Jerod Mayo Jimmy Garoppolo Josh Boyce Julian Edelman Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Patriots Training Camp Photos Rob Gronkowski Scott Chandler Tom Brady