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NFL New England Patriots

5 Things To Watch In New England Patriots First Preseason Game

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5 Things To Watch In New England Patriots First Preseason Game

5 Things To Watch In New England Patriots First Preseason Game
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The preseason for the New England Patriots starts tonight when they take the field against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Preseason games are an interesting phenomenon. If you asked me to watch one in the middle of the NFL season, I would lose interest as soon as the starters were taken out, but at this point of the year, we're all so football starved that even the idea of watching reserves and guys destined for the practice squad gets me excited.

So in the end, you need to go into preseason games with a few things on your mind that you're going to watch for. Whether it's your favorite team and you want to see how the future stars are going to perform or you're targeting a few sleepers for your fantasy football team, preseason games are a great way to get insights on a team that you won't get anywhere else.

For the Patriots, there are plenty of things to watch. It was a tumultuous offseason in New England, and this is the first time the team gets to take the field and try to put those off-field issues behind them.

The offense, which has traditionally carried the team, has more questions heading into the 2013 season than at any time in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. And if the offense can't carry the load anymore, the improving defense will be called upon to do more than ever this year.

2013 is going to be an interesting year for sure in New England, and it all begins tonight when they open their preseason schedule.

These are the five things to watch for tonight.

Ben Sullivan is an NFL writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bensullivan52, "Like" him on Facebook and add him to your network on Google.

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5. How Will The Backup Offensive Line Play?

Offensive Line
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

Now normally, the offensive line isn't on any list of things to watch, especially the backups. But preseason games are mostly dominated by the backups, especially the first one of the year.

The offense line for the Patriots could be an Achilles heel this year if the starters suffer injuries. The first-string line is solid, but the team only goes two deep in the reserves before you get to completely unproven players.

If the team is going to have any reassurance that a few injuries won't totally derail their season, it will come from one or more of the young backup offensive lineman showing the coaching staff they have what it takes to do their job if called upon.

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4. How Will The Defense Line Up?

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Patriots ran a 3-4 scheme for a long time under Belichick, but made the switch to a 4-3 last year. Well, technically they made the switch. In reality, the Patriots don't really have a base defense.

They have the personnel to line up in either formation, or something even more exotic, based on whatever the offense is dictating to them.

While teams don't tend to show too much of their strategic hand in preseason, it's likely we'll get a glimpse of what the defense will look like against the Eagles.

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3. How Will They Use Shane Vereen?

Shane Vereen
Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Shane Vereen has been a disappointment so far in his first two years as a Patriot. The shifty-third-down-type back, who was taken a round ahead of the No. 1 back Stevan Ridely in the 2011 draft, has been used sparingly.

But when he has been used, he's shown flashes of talent. After a big game against the Houston Texans in the playoffs last year, fans are excited for what Vereen can do this year.

The departure of Danny Woodhead opens the door for him to get the snaps as the third-down back and rumors have him lining up at receiver in training camp.

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2. Where Will Tim Tebow Play?

Tim Tebow
Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

You knew we were going to get to it, and here we are. All eyes will be on Tim Tebow when the team takes the field in Philadelphia. Not just to see how he plays, but more importantly to see where he plays.

Most likely, he'll only take the field as a quarterback in the preseason because if the Patriots do have plans to use him somewhere else, it's probably not something they're going to show other teams in games that don’t matter.

He'll get snaps at quarterback because I think he can unseat Ryan Mallet as the backup if he plays well, but don't except to see Belichick tip his hand if he has plans to use him as a tight end or running back.

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1. Who Will Step Up At Receiver?

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest question for the Patriots this year is going to be how they replace all the production in the receiving game that was lost this offseason.

The Patriots depth chart includes veterans Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman to go along with rookies Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce.

Amendola has the best professional resume of them all, Dobson has the best chance to make a splash as a rookie and don't sleep on tight end Zach Sudfeld, or "Baby Gronk" as he's being called.