Football is back…finally. The Patriots begin the 2018 preseason with a home tilt against the Washington Redskins. The kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium and it is supposed to be hot and steamy around kickoff time.
The game will be broadcast on WBZ TV4 with the Patriots radio crew of Bob Socci, Scott Zolak holding down the play-by-play and color duties, with sideline reporters Rob Ninkovich and Steve Burton. Andy Hart and Paul Perillo from Patriots Football Weekly will provide frequent commentary from the studio.
This will be the 22nd meeting between the two teams in the preseason. The Patriots and Philadelphia have met 22 times as well and have only played the Giants in the preseason (27 games) more.
However, this game will likely have little bearing on who starts the regular season for the Patriots or the Redskins. While both starting QBs, Tom Brady and newcomer Alex Smith for the Redskins may make a cameo appearance, one wouldn’t expect them to play more than a series, if at all.
But there are a lot of players on both teams that need to perform well during the preseason as they hope to make each team. Right now the rosters are set at 90 players and each team can keep only 53. On the Patriots, there are probably 39-40 players who are locks to make the roster and another 3-4 more who are near locks. That leaves an awful lot of competition for the bottom half of the roster.
There are some spots were open competition will tell the tale, so the players, matchups etc. that we’ll be watching for from a Patriots perspective are:
Left Tackle Position: The Patriots traded for Trent Brown this spring and after losing long-time left tackle Nate Solder in free agency to the Giants. Brown is huge, 6’8, 380 pounds but moves well for a big man. He’s had a good training camp up to this point but tonight will be his first game action as a member of the Patriots.
The team invested a first-round draft pick on G/T Isaiah Wynn from Georgia just hours before trading for Brown. He’s played mostly tackle with a bit of guard thrown in this summer on the left side but he’ll get some work at both. Wynn is small for an NFL tackle at 6’2, 311 but he makes up for with being gifted athletically.
They seem to be taking the same approach with Wynn as they did with Solder, they’ll let him learn the ropes for a year under Dante Scarnecchia, while getting frequent reps to earn some experience.
While all signs point to the pair being just fine this season, until they get on the field and show some work against opponents, there will be questions. But with Scarnecchia being the tough love teacher, I would expect to see Wynn start at some point this season.
Cornerback: With Malcolm Butler now a Tennessee Titan, the Patriots had a hole at the CB spot opposite of Gilmore. Many of the national sites are calling Butler’s loss the Patriots top CB last year. But in reality, since about halfway thru the season, it was Gilmore who was the better of the two and down the stretch and into the playoffs there was no doubt about that.
Now there seems to be a two-way battle between veterans Jason McCourty and Eric Rowe. Both have had their good moments during training camp And each brings a little something different to the table but it may end up being more a case of who the opponent is, the coaches may decide to go with the better matchups.
However, waiting in the wings is unheralded rookie J.C. Jackson from Maryland. Jackson turned some heads during OTAs and minicamp and got some reps opposite Gilmore. He has since gotten more in training camp and looks like he belongs. He’s not overwhelmed at all Second-year player Ryan Lewis has the prototypical size that teams are looking for and has turned in a solid training camp as well.
In the slot, rookie Duke Dawson has gotten a lot of reps and has played well. But Jonathan Jones just came off of PUP and will have something to say about that. It is doubtful, however, that Jones will play so soon.
Running Back: With 1st round draft pick Sony Michel on the shelf after getting fluid from his knee drained, it leaves a decent sized hole that two veterans will be fighting for a roster spot over. The Patriots brought in Mike Gillislee last year, but overall he’s been disappointing. He’s missed some playing time during camp this summer, which isn’t helping his cause.
The team signed former Bengals back Jeremy Hill this offseason and he’s had the upper hand so far during training camp. Hill brings an element in the passing game that Gillislee doesn’t have and has run the ball pretty well so far.
These two are probably fighting over one roster spot so these preseason games all become very important for each of them.
Edge Rushers: The Patriots defense was not good getting after the quarterback a year ago. Trey Flowers had a good year and the team got a decent rookie season from Deatrich Wise but had little else. They’ll have to be much better this year at getting pressure on opposing QBs.
During free agency, the team went out and got veteran Adrian Clayborn. They also got back last year’s top draft pick Derek Rivers as well as Dont’a Hightower on the defensive front seven. Rivers is starting to round back into form from his torn ACL from last preseason and it will be a test for him to get back into game action.
He should be part of a four-man rotation with Flowers, Clayborn, and Wise, who is having a terrific camp thus far this summer.
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