Lots to accomplish with the opener less than 4 weeks away
The Patriots finished up their three-day joint practice slate with the Bears and now the teams prepare for the preseason game on Thursday night. This week, however, there was a conspicuous lack of the fair play and respect the Pats had with the Saints and the practices on Monday and Tuesday definitely had an edge to them. For the Patriots, now is the time to get things accomplished, the season opener is Arizona is only 24 days from today.
While most preseason games tend to be vanilla in terms of game planning, with all of the competition on-going at many of the positions, this is an important game for a number of players. With the first cut down from 90 to 75 players looming in just 12 days, on August 30, it is getting close to crunch time for many of those on the bubble. Then the team must cut the roster down to 53 men on September 3.
So with that in mind here are our five things to watch for in tonight’s game:
Quarterback Play by Jimmy G: I think just about everyone is in agreement that Tom Brady will start tonight’s game. He took the first-team reps during the Wednesday walk-thru and that’s usually the sign that he’ll start and probably play a series or two to get some actual game action in. Brady has looked sharp throughout camp, whether he’s taken the first team reps or worked with the backups.
But with the clocking ticking towards Arizona, Jimmy Garoppolo has to start making the offense click under his watch. He said so, in not so many words this week. He talked about starting the offense quicker. Bill Belichick mentioned in his Tuesday press conference that the team’s focus remains preparing Jimmy G. for the opener.
Although he’ll be missing many of his primary weapons, Gronk, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis, and Malcolm Mitchell, Garoppolo needs to step up his game a bit this week. After Brady’s cameo, expect to see Jimmy G. play into the third quarter this week. And he needs to show he can move the ball and take what the defense is giving him. Next week, against Carolina, should be a much longer look at him at the helm, where the team will closely replicate a regular season game in terms of preparation and reps.
Opportunity Knocks at WR: The fact that with no Edelman, Amendola, Mitchell, Keshawn Martin, and possibly Chris Hogan this week makes life more difficult for the QBs, for the wide receivers on the bubble, it means more opportunity to shine.
And for the bubble players, no one is more needing a solid week more than Aaron Dobson. The fourth-year WR was one of the best receivers in early camp work but this week was nearly forgotten. He was targeted only twice on Tuesday and had only a single catch. With Martin virtually a lock considering his new contract and a $600,000 signing bonus this spring, Dobson was considered a long shot to make the roster. Now with Martin missing significant time due to an injury, the door has cracked open for Dobson to make a statement.
Veteran Nate Washington, DeAndre Carter, Chris Harper, Matthew Slater, and Devin Lucien will be trying to garner as many reps as possible. There will be at least one slot open for the 53-man roster. If Martin or Amendola aren’t ready for the season opener, then there may be more chances to stick.
Can Gaffney Continue His Momentum? Last week’s feel-good story had to be RB Tyler Gaffney who finally was able to play in a game after suffering two straight years of disappointment of landing on IR early in camp. He had a solid effort against the Saints a week ago including a nice 44-yard touchdown run.
The key for the third year back is consistency both with his play on the field and the ability to stay on the field. The Patriots need a big back who can get the tough yards inside and Gaffney at 6’0, 220 pounds fits the bill. With LeGarrette Blount coming off of a serious injury a year ago and having a subpar game against the Saints, Gaffney can carve out his own role with a good game.
With Dion Lewis on PUP, and Donald Brown, D.J. Foster, and Brandon Bolden banged up, Gaffney should get to show what he can do with Blount, Joey Iosefa, and James White this week.
Flowers, Edge Rushers to the Forefront: This Young week the Patriots will be missing three of their top four edge rushers with Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard, and Shea McClellin getting banged up and missing the game against the Bears.
But like elsewhere, this is an opportunity for the younger players on the roster to step up and get some serious reps to show what they can do. Trey Flowers had a big week against the Saints both in the joint practices and in the preseason game. He had four tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery he took into the end zone for a touchdown.
He was getting starting reps opposite veteran Chris Long this week and this will be a great opportunity to show what he can do. Long will provide the veteran presence along the line but Flowers, Geneo Grissom, and Rufus Johnson will be looked to this week to provide the QB pressure that the defense will need.
Who Starts, Steps Up at Cornerback: The Patriots are set with their top two corners, having Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan anchoring down the left and right sides respectively. But Ryan is still wearing his red non-contact jersey and is not going to play tonight. So who gets the start opposite Butler? And who steps up and plays well this week?
The Patriots have several corners who are vying for roster spots. Justin Coleman had a fantastic day on Monday, only to have a not-so-great day on Tuesday where he was picked on a bit. However, he’s still the top choice for the third or slot corner. Cyrus Jones got the nod against the Saints but Cre’Von LeBlanc, Jonathan Jones, and 2nd-year player Darryl Roberts all saw significant playing time. LeBlanc made a highlight reel interception in the end zone a week ago and that will help his cause.
Veteran E.J. Biggers and V’Angelo Bentley are both in the mix as well but they seem to be falling behind the others in terms of snaps in both practice and in the first preseason game. The Bears have some intriguing weapons in Alshon Jeffrey, Kevin White and rookie slot receiver Daniel Braverman. It will be a good test for the young corners to see what they can do against this group.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 Patriots Roster 53 Man Roster Projection Bill Belichick Chris Long Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower Geneo Grissom Jabaal Sheard Jimmy Garoppolo Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots cornerbacks Patriots edge rushers Patriots Training Camp Photos Rob Gronkowski Rob Ninkovich Tom Brady Trey Flowers Tyler Gaffney