Some news and notes for this morning:
Tonight marks the first preseason contest for the New England Patriots as they get set to take on the Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium, with kickoff set for 7:00pm.
It’s the first of three contests ahead for the 2023 exhibition season, with tonight primarily being an evaluation period for most of the mid and lower tier of the roster ahead of roster cutdowns in a few weeks.
While Mac Jones and the offensive starters aren’t expected to be out there, the big question is going to be who might break through behind them and make a statement tonight.
Here are a few names that come to mind:
PATRIOTS TO WATCH TONIGHT:
Tyquan Thornton: This is certainly one that people will be watching. The second-year wideout has had a tough start to training camp but has made a couple of plays as of late. The hope had been that Thornton would take a step forward after what was just an O.K. rookie year, having started 2022 on IR while missing the first four games with a fractured collar bone that he suffered in preseason. For a guy who worked hard this offseason, it feels like it’s been an uphill battle for him all training camp.
Demario Douglas: As one of New England’s sixth round picks, he was a player who, when you looked at his film, seemed to be an ideal fit for the offense. The only question was whether or not, having played at a smaller school like Liberty, it would translate to the NFL level. So far, he’s been outstanding and it’s going to be interesting to see him working against other NFL corners if he gets playing time tonight.
Kayshon Boutte: The same can be said for Boutte. After getting off to a slow start, he’s come on as of late and seems to be settling in nicely in the offense. The former LSU standout has shown some solid moments at times during camp, including an unreal one-handed grab he made earlier in the week. He’ll be another one to watch against the Texans to see if he can’t separate himself a little more in the battle for the bottom of the depth chart.
Kevin Harris: Some fans might remember that Harris was one of the names who stood out by the end of last preseason, making a strong case for himself to land a spot on this football team. The club gambled and waived him at the end of training camp during final roster cutdowns, and were fortunate to get him back on their practice squad. That move paid off after he was elevated later in the season after Damien Harris got hurt, seeing playing time in four of the final six contests in 2022 while finishing with 36 carries for 104 yards (2.9 avg) along with 2 touchdowns. He said earlier in the week, “I feel more confident,” compared to where he was this time last year as he continues competing for that coveted spot behind Rhamondre Stevenson.
Atonio Mafi: He’s been solid this preseason and has really started coming on as of late. The rookie offensive lineman, who was taken in the fifth round this past April out of UCLA, is a beast and has held his own in quite a few of the drills and is making a solid case so far to earn a role up front. It will be interesting to see if the same physicality he showed in college and has shown so far will translate onto the field tonight.
Sidy Sow: He’s another player on New England’s offensive line who will be interesting to watch. He’s been transitioning over to tackle, which is where Bill Belichick said last week they would be trying him as they try and continue building some depth at the position. We’ll potentially see against Houston how Sow handles himself should he see some action.
Malik Cunningham: The Patriots have worked Cunningham at receiver for most of training camp, but he actually ended up getting snaps late this week at quarterback. With Mac Jones likely to sit this one out, it will be interesting to see if Cunningham ends up under center late in this one, potentially finishing things behind Trace McSorely depending on whatever quarterback rotation they have in mind for this evening.
Christian Gonzalez: Tough to say if Belichick will play him tonight but if he does, it will be interesting to see how Gonzalez looks in his first game action. The rookie out of Oregon has been terrific early on in camp, albeit he’s had some tough battles at times against the Patriots veteran wideouts. But overall, he’s still been in the right spot contesting passes and has won his own fair share early on. He’s obviously an important piece of this 2023 defense, so he’ll definitely be one to watch if he’s out there.
Marcus Jones: Everyone knows how electric he is on offense, but the overall reports on him seem to be mixed this preseason when it comes to his coverage in the secondary. Jones, who was taken last year in the third round of the 2022 draft, has become a little more important this preseason given the situation with fellow-second-year cornerback Jack Jones, whose future remains up in the air. Marcus is a player who the Patriots will need to see take a step forward on defense, as their secondary will certainly become a little thinner should Jack’s legal issues keep him sidelined in 2023. He’ll be worth keeping an eye on tonight if he sees action.
Isaiah Bolden: While not a lot has been mentioned about him, the seventh round pick out of Jackson State has gotten some pretty good reviews for his athletic ability and for a few moments he’s had in camp. He’s a player who would be nice to see end up emerging in a secondary that, as was just mentioned, could use some depth ahead of the season, especially if Jack Jones’ availability for this season comes into question. As a result, he’ll be another one to watch against Houston.
Keion White: With questions around the future of Josh Uche and the contract dispute that came up with Matthew Judon, the Patriots could use someone like White to emerge as a game-changer on their depth chart. If you watched any of his film from college, the 2023 second-round pick out of Georgia Tech was a nightmare for opposing offenses as he frequently blew up plays and made life really difficult. According to most reports, White’s more than held his own a few times in camp and it’ll be interesting to see what he does tonight if he sees action.
Sam Roberts: He was one of the more intriguing picks of 2022 and Roberts has reportedly had some good moments in camp as he heads into his second season. He was a monster at Northwest Missouri State, often looking like a man among boys in many of his collegiate games. He ended up not being much of a difference maker last season, but the hope is that he can continue building on that in 2023.
Chad Ryland: Obviously, the kicker is not one of the sexiest positions but it can certainly become one of the most important. Ryland has reportedly had a solid camp as he looks to unseat incumbent, Nick Folk. Should they falter in the red zone tonight and have to settle for three points, how Ryland performs will definitely be something everyone will be watching as what’s quietly a key battle continues to play out at that position.
Light Believes O’Brien Effect Should Be Significant
Former Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light appeared on The Greg Hill Show on WEEI on Thursday morning and he believes that new offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien should definitely see this team be much more effective on offense in 2023.
Light believes that one significant part of what O’Brien does so well is just his communication with everyone, which he pointed out goes well beyond the quarterback.
“I think like everyone, I’m excited to see, A) What Billy O’Brien brings to the table and as a guy who spent a lot of time with Billy and I have a ton of respect for him and how he approaches the game,” said Light. “I think he does a great job communicating with all aspects of the offense, right? Quarterbacks, for sure. I think he’s going to do a great job just being able to be there and instill the things he feels are most important with Mac, and then the receivers, but also the line. I mean, I think he does a good job of just kind of letting those guys know what the expectations are, how he wants to start a game, how he’s calling the game, and I think there will be a lot of comfort in that for everybody in the offense. So I’m excited to see that. I think the defense, I they’re going to be pretty good, I think that’s going to be fun to watch as well. But all together, man, there’s a lot of question marks still.”
The former left tackle also said that there’s a “comfort” in how O’Brien operates, which he says extends to everyone on offense. Between his preparation and communication, it gives everyone more confidence and that should kae the overall operation much better compared to where it was a year ago.
“I honestly think it’s the way that he does it, right? You don’t second-guess what Billy stands on things, right? He is going to let you know how he feels, what his expectations are, what he needs out of you, and there’s comfort in that,” said Light. “I mean I think there’s sometimes guys get frustrated because they don’t really know what the heck’s going on. They practice it one way, then things change, and then there’s things that aren’t communicated. I’m not saying that’s how things went last year entirely, but I know one thing, Billy O’Brien is going to watch into each meeting and he’s going to have a set of expectations, he’s going to work on it, and then when it comes game time, everybody’s going to know what their role is.”
Patriots Add LB Giles-Harris:
The Patriots announced a transaction ahead of tonight on Wednesday, adding linebacker Joe Giles-Harris.
The 6’2″, 234-pound Harris initially came into the league as a rookie free agent with Jacksonville in 2019-2020, as well as spending some time with the Bills from 2021-2022.
Harris appeared in 17 games over that span, having tallied 18 tackles along with one sack. He only appeared in one game in 2022 (vs Pittsburgh), while spending last season on Buffalo’s practice squad.
Posted Under: Patriots News