The first two pre-season games mean little to nothing. They are an opportunity to shake the tree and see what falls out that may be a surprise among the newcomers. The experienced vets play little and undrafted free agents and draft picks get their opportunity to catch the eye of the coaching staff…and most of all Head Coach Bill Belichick.
Now game three…that’s a different story!
New England vs Carolina: Finally A Game That Means Something
Friday night’s Patriots’ game at Bank Of America Stadium in Charlotte, NC is important for many reasons. It will give fans their first chance to see most of the veterans in action and evaluate how things are expected to evolve when the season starts against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, September 10 at Gillette Stadium.
What to watch for Friday night:
- How much playing time Patriots’ QB Jimmy Garoppolo gets with the first team unit against the Carolina Panthers first
team. Although most teams don’t “game plan” for preseason match-ups and keep things pretty vanilla this will be a true test against an always strong Panther defense featuring former Boston College Eagle Luke Kuechly. Last season the Middle Line-Backer was voted to the Pro Bowl and selected to the NFL All-Pro First Team for the second consecutive season.
Although Garoppolo took a huge step forward in last weeks comeback win against the Saints, every Patriot fan in the world is hoping Tom Brady is the starting QB when the opening bell rings. That said, the Patriots have to be ready if his suspension is upheld and Belichick is the best in football having his team prepared for every contingency. Sure Tom Terrific will play in this game and may get the majority of snaps…but this will be the only chance Garoppolo has to play with the offensive unit that will start the season and against an opponent who will also be using most of their “A” units on both defense and offense.
- By 4 p.m Tuesday (9/1) all clubs must cut their rosters to 75 players on the active list.
That means many of the names you see on the current team roster will be gone shortly after this game. Those on-the-bubble players will be showcasing their talents in hopes they catch the eye of another team. With limited playing time in this game they have to make every minute they are on the field count.
- This will be a test of the evolving Patriots’ secondary and defense.
When starters have played against starters this pre-season (a small sampling at best) the Patriots secondary has been (I’m being kind here) challenged and, with the exception of Malcom Butler, have not met that challenge very well. Both the Packers (Game #1) & Saints (Game #2) seemed to march up and down the field with ease. On the positive side, as has been the case throughout most of the Belichick years, the team seemed to suck-it-up once the opponent got inside the Pats 20 yard line. The healthy return of Dont’a Hightower and Jerod Mayo will be critical to this years defensive unit along with the addition of Jabaal Sheard and continued development of Jamie Collins.
- Gronkowski, Chandler and Wayne could see playing time
For the first time we could have a good look at Scott Chandler as he teams up with Rob Gronkowski. Add in the possible sighting of newcomer Reggie Wayne and it could make for an interesting mix despite the continued absence due to injury of Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell. The playing time for Chris Harper will also be an indication of his likelihood to stick with New England while so many WRs are still hurting.
- The annual shuffle on the offensive line continues
The return of Ryan Wendell should help quiet down the jitters of rookies Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason, who have both shown promise but also weaknesses that need to be worked on. With Nate Solder and Sebastion Volmer back and the continued development of second year center Bryan Stork this unit should start to jell shortly.
- The Shane Vereen question
As training camp started most (myself included) experts (did I just refer to myself as an expert? Surely not!) felt the Patriots would be hard pressed to replace the 3rd down efficiency of Shane Vereen. Although his replacement has not yet been determined, a few leading candidates have stepped up and made themselves known. Last years 4th round pick, James White, has taken a gigantic leap in his second camp and is the favorite to step into the role. Keep a close eye on 24-year-old Dion Lewis who has bounced around since being a 5th round pick by Pittsburgh in the 2011 draft. He was out of football last year (leg injury) but has displayed some explosiveness, especially last week against the Saints.
Other developments will occur during the game, so enjoy this one all the way to the end. Next week the “locks” will sit while the bubble players will get most of the playing time before final cuts are made. The 1st and 4th games are usually the sloppiest and hardest to watch, so it’s nice to finally have a game that means something!
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