New England Patriots: 5 Players To Watch In Tonight’s Preseason Game
NFL Preseason: Buccaneers Vs. Patriots
After the New England Patriots’ first preseason game, several intriguing storylines emerged as a result of that game. Then, as the week progressed, another important storyline emerged. That was, of course, the Tom Brady injury scare that occurred during practice on Wednesday afternoon.
Now, with the Patriots’ second preseason matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on tap for tonight at 8 p.m. EST, many of those storylines will finally be played out on the field. As we get closer to the regular season opener against the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 8, jobs will most definitely be on the line throughout the rest of the preseason.
With 90 players on the Patriots roster, and only 53 allowed to make the roster by the start of September, player cuts will come in bunches and they will come swiftly. From the wide receiver battle to the backup quarterback situation, there is no shortage of things to follow this year for the team, especially tonight.
With the projected starters likely to play a little longer than in game one, possibly a good chunk of the second quarter in some cases, this preseason game should be a lot more significant than the first one. Fans will be able to get a good feel for who the team is leaning on starting at various positions to begin the season. At the very least, we will see how players that are battling for playing time this year can perform under bright lights against a real NFL team.
In advance of the game, I have compiled a list of players to watch tonight against the Bucs', starting with Brady's health.
Under normal circumstances, watching Brady in a preseason game would be pointless. However, after going down with some kind of knee injury at practice Wednesday afternoon, although the injury is considered minor, it will be something to monitor in this game.
How long he will play and how he looks in the game will be very important things to follow. He is unquestionably the most important player on the roster and if he were to suffer a setback, it would be a major blow to a team that has a lot of offensive uncertainty going into the year.
Ryan Mallett's play will be on full display tonight. With Brady expected to play only a few series tonight, Mallett will play a significant number of snaps in this game, barring another injury. After the way he played in last week's game, Mallett will have to prove that he can lead the Patriots' offense tonight.
How he plays in tonight's game could ultimately determine whether he is traded, released in 2014 or kept to be Brady's successor. If his play is mediocre, the team may start to regret drafting him in the third round a few years back.
If he excels, he would solidify his spot as the Patriots' backup, and possibly could be traded to another team, where he would then become an immediate starter. This game might just be the biggest of his life tonight.
Tim Tebow has a lot on the line tonight as well. He is currently battling for a spot on the Patriots’ roster. Although he is expected to make the team’s 53-man roster as of right now, things can change if he continues to struggle.
After a game where he struggled mightily with his accuracy last week, Tebow will have to show that he can throw the football better than he did in that game if he wants to stick around. If he struggles again, he may lose his roster spot on the team, and as a result, his NFL career could also be over.
LeGarrette Blount, although his roster spot appears to be safe, will be an interesting guy to watch tonight too. He came to the team with absolutely no expectations whatsoever with Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden already on the roster.
That all changed when he exploded for 101 yards and two TDs on just 11 carries in the Patriots’ preseason opener. The fans and media alike were all ecstatic about what he could bring to the football team as a result.
It should be an interesting development to watch how he performs against a much more competent defensive line this week on the Buccaneers.
For Kenbrell Thompkins, he will have a lot on the line in this game. He is currently competing with Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola for playing time this season. If he can impress, outperforming his competition like he did in last week’s game, he could have the inside track at the No. 2 receiver job.
If he struggles, Dobson and Amendola could wind up at the top of the depth chart, thereby dropping him to a No. 3 receiver role this season, barring an injury to one of his competitors.
Given that Thompkins is an undrafted free agent, he will have to excel at all times to pass guys like Dobson and Amendola on the depth chart.