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NFL New England Patriots

5 Things To Watch In New England Patriots’ Preseason Opener

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Many Changes Have Come This Year For New England

QB's
Stew Milne- USA TODAY SPORTS

The New England Patriots have had quite the offseason. They have seen their Tight End situation deteriorate, Wes Welker leave town and two Defensive Lineman who were productive last season get shipped out of town. With that being said, the team has been busy this year adding new faces to their team in hopes of picking up some of the slack. They have added several rookies to the receiving core mix, added a dependable safety in Adrian Wilson to compete with Tavon Wilson for the starting SS job and have traded for Legarrette Blount to beef up their running back core.

Perhaps the most high-profile move of the offseason, however, was their third-string quarterback. When the Patriots brought in QB Tim Tebow, the move created a frenzy among the media and their fans in Foxboro. Little did the fans know, the team would have to deal with something with even bigger ramifications for the Patriots than the Tebow signing. That is of course, the debacle involving former Patriots’ Tight End Aaron Hernandez.

As we all know by now, Hernandez has been formally charged with the murder of Odin Lloyd and has been implicated in several others. After that news was announced, the Patriots responded by formally releasing him within a few hours. With all these events having occurred this offseason, it certainly makes for an interesting preseason with many different position battles taking place.

The first preseason game will see the starters play only a few snaps. However, with the Patriots not totally sure who will play certain positions this year, it will give the newbies a chance to prove that they belong in the starting mix. Here are a few interesting things to keep an eye on for the Preseason Opener on Friday Night against the Philadelphia Eagles

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5. Rookie Receivers

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Pat Lovell- USA TODAY SPORTS

The Patriots have totally rebuilt their receiving core from the ground up in 2013. With the Patriots losing their top-five leading pass catchers from a year ago, (at least for a while in Gronk’s case) the team will have to rely heavily upon the rookies that they drafted this year. They will have to excel to fill the void of losing guys like Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, Aaron Hernandez, Rob Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead. The rookies that will have to step up are Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce.

Dobson has been a machine so far in camp and may be the team’s x factor in 2013. He has even drawn comparisons to Randy Moss because they have similar height and speed, and they both attended college at Marshall. Boyce, on the other hand, may have to wait to see if one of the slot receivers get injured to get his shot. The reason being that he is seemingly too small to play on the outside, and one would think that Danny Amendola would play over him. If Amendola were to suffer an injury though, he may be the one to take over. Both players are definitely worth monitoring in this Friday’s preseason game

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4. Tight End Battle

Tight End Battle
Matthew Emmons- USA TODAY SPORTS

The Tight End position may be the most intriguing thing to watch during the preseason, especially on Friday night. Who comes out to start the game should say a lot about what the Pats are thinking regarding the possible starter. Jake Ballard would figure to be the first guy on the field at TE, but who comes out after him is anybody’s guess. With Daniel Fells, Michael Hoomanawanui and Zach Sudfeld all battling for spots, it will be a key thing to watch on Friday night. It will be especially important to watch with the possibility of Gronkowski missing the first six weeks of the season.

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3. Stevan Ridley

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Stew Milne- USA TODAY SPORTS

If the Patriots’ lack of proven receiver talent forces them to run the football more, the team may choose to rely heavily on the running game in 2013. If that is the case, Stevan Ridley would be first choice for the guy that would carry the brunt of the load. With that being said, Ridley has had trouble holding onto the football throughout his time in New England, and so far during training camp. His ball carrying skills will be worth monitoring tomorrow night.

If he coughs up the ball again, Shane Vereen may be given the opportunity he needs to supplant Ridley as the starter come Week 1. The division of playing time for newcomer Legarrette Blount will be an interesting thing to follow tomorrow night as well.

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2. Strong Safety Position Battle

Adrian Wilson
Mark J. Rebilas- USA TODAY SPORTS

As far as defense goes, there are a few key position battles that will be worth monitoring tomorrow as well. Firstly, the battle at Strong Safety will be something to keep an eye on. The Patriots have veteran S Adrian Wilson, second-year man Tavon Wilson and rookie Duron Harmon all battling for that starting spot.

With Adrian Wilson having the most experience, I would bet on him as the starter in Week 1, but if one of the other safeties impresses and he struggles, they could dethrone him as the starter. As with the other positions, the player who starts the game will be a tell-tale sign about who the Patriots are leaning on to start the season.

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1. Defensive Line Position Battle

Defensive Lineman Battle
David Butler II- USA TODAY SPORTS

The other key position to watch on the defensive side of the ball tomorrow will be the Defensive Tackle Battle. After releasing both Kyle Love and Brandon Deaderick this offseason, the Patriots have to figure out who will step up at Defensive Tackle for the team next to Vince Wilfork in 2013.

With guys like Marcus Forston and Armond Armstead among others, it will be important to watch, yet again, who comes out at the beginning of the game with the other starters. With Armstead most likely not ready to go yet after having surgery recently, I would expect to see Forston out there first. Either way it will be something to monitor, among the other things, tomorrow night.