FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots are gearing up for their second game of the preseason, and there are plenty of storylines to watch leading into this one.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in town for Friday night’s showdown, but the two teams are already well acquainted as they’ve been practicing together since Tuesday. So, there shouldn’t be many, if any, surprises when they finally take the field.
The big story of the week was Tom Brady‘s health, after the quarterback was knocked to the ground and appeared to suffer at least a minor knee injury during practice on Wednesday. The injury scare captured all of the headlines around New England, and the NFL for that matter, but ultimately turned out to be a false alarm as Brady returned to practice on Thursday and is expected to play against the Bucs.
With Brady leading the discussion heading into this one, let’s take a look at the three biggest stories facing the Patriots ahead of preseason game two.
1. Tom Brady’s reps — Brady’s knee was all the hype this week. Now, we’ll see just how many reps, if any, he’s allowed to take before being pulled in favor of Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow. Brady led just two drives on offense before finishing his night in last week’s game against the Eagles, so don’t expect too much, but it will be interesting to see if he even gets the full two drives this week or if he’s just out there more for show than anything. Either way, his accuracy, which didn’t seem impacted by the injury on Thursday, will be something to keep an eye on.
2. Rookie receivers development — Kenbrell Thompkins has been the standout star among the Patriots’ rookie receivers so far in camp, but how will he and the rest of the young guys manage in Week 2? Aaron Dobson had one nice catch against Philly in his preseason debut, but he continues to struggle with creating a cushion in coverage. Josh Boyce didn’t make much of an impact in his first NFL action either, at least not on the stat sheet, but he did run some nice routes and find some open lanes. Depending on Brady’s time on the field, it will be especially interesting to see if anyone but Thompkins, who caught four passes from Brady against the Eagles, is able to catch the quarterback’s eye this week.
3. Defensive line — The Patriots’ starting four up front, if they’re playing a base 4-3 defense at least, are going to be Vince Wilfork, Tommy Kelly, Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones, that much is already settled. Aside from those four, though, nothing is settled. Marcus Benard, Marcus Forston, Michael Buchanan and Jake Bequette are among a group of nearly 10 defensive lineman fighting for the few backup spots with the team, and will need as many reps as possible to differentiate themselves. None of the four are guaranteed a spot on the roster, and undrafted rookies like Joe Vellano, Cory Grissom and Scott Vallone are all still sticking around with the unit, too. We’ll see who gets the majority of the playing time with that backup unit and which of them are able to make the most of their opportunity.
Check out our NESN.com Patriots-Buccaneers Live Blog to keep up with all the pertinent information as kickoff comes and the game rolls on.