The New England Patriots can let out seven months of pent-up frustration in their first preseason game of the 2014 season after enduring organized team activities, minicamp and two weeks of training camp.
The Washington Redskins will be the unlucky recipients Thursday night in what should be a familiar affair against the Patriots after three joint practices between the teams. Reports out of Richmond, Va., say that the Patriots’ offense and defense were running circles around Robert Griffin III, Jay Gruden and the Redskins.
The Patriots’ 53-man roster will be a tough one to crack for undrafted rookies and the rest of New England’s unheralded players. Check out which players to keep an eye on in the Patriots preseason opener.
Brandon LaFell: LaFell can do this:
So, why in the world would you not watch the Patriots’ free-agent addition?
The Patriots’ matchup against the Redskins will be the first opportunity to see how well LaFell knows the team’s complex offense. He has the versatility to play all three wide receiver roles, so he’ll definitely see the field in the 2014 regular season.
Justin Jones: Jones was going to get his reps in the third and fourth quarter as a deep reserve, but then all the Patriots’ tight ends suffered injuries, and now the undrafted rookie might actually start.
Jones, at 6-foot-8, 275 pounds, looks like the type of specimen that Vince McMahon would like to have around in the WWE. The ECU product has to prove he’s more Undertaker than Giant Gonzalez, or more Big Show than Great Khali.
James White: The hype is high for White, and there’s good reason — the rookie running back has been a shining star at Patriots training camp. Before White starts going in the first five rounds of fantasy drafts, however, it might be a good idea to see him on the game field first. White should get plenty of reps in the run and pass game.
Ryan Mallett: Mallett hasn’t shown much as the Patriots’ backup quarterback in his first three preseasons, and he has four more games to prove that he deserves that “straight cash, homie” in free agency next offseason. Mallett has been solid in training camp, so we’ll see if he can carry that into a game situation.
Feel free to watch Jimmy Garoppolo, as well.
Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner: Revis has been fantastic in Patriots training camp practices, while Browner has showcased his physicality. Patriots fans might be disappointed if Revis doesn’t pick off five RGIII passes, and if Browner doesn’t knock the cleats off of a few Redskins, but some solid play should be enough to appease New Englanders.
Revis and Browner won’t be challenged by Pierre Garcon, who is out with a hamstring injury, and DeSean Jackson is unlikely to play with a bum ankle.
Jamie Collins: Collins is just fun to watch in general, but he appears to have packed on some muscle, which should only make him more intimidating when he takes the field. It should be fun to watch Collins match up with Jordan Reed, the Redskins’ super-athletic tight end.
Duron Harmon, Patrick Chung and Tavon Wilson: The Patriots need to start someone at strong safety next to free safety Devin McCourty, and if it’s not one of these three players, then all bets are off for the 2014 season. Harmon is expected to get the start, but head coach Bill Belichick could elect to go with one of the more experienced players for Week 1 of the preseason.
Daxton Swanson: As a member of the media, it’s natural to get attached to certain players after watching them in OTAs, minicamp and training camp. Swanson has shown impressive ball skills throughout the offseason, so don’t be surprised to see him around the football on Thursday night. Forgive me if I blurt out “THAT’S MY BOY, DAX” on Twitter in all caps with multiple exclamation points if he makes a big play.
Zach Moore: Moore has shown glimpses in training camp, and he certainly has the size to shine in the NFL, despite coming out of tiny Concordia-St. Paul University. Moore could line up at five-technique defensive end (in a 3-4), seven-technique defensive end (in a four-man front) or three-technique defensive tackle, so pay attention to where he is on the field late in the game.
Roy Finch: Finch could make some big plays on offense, but I’m more curious to watch him on special teams. Finch has received snaps at kick returner and punt returner, and his speed and shiftiness could really pay off if he gets comfortable at those positions. Feel free to tweet out #FreeRoyFinch whenever the Oklahoma product takes the field.