The New England Patriots’ fourth and final preseason game might be boring for viewers, but it’s an important piece to the puzzle as head coach Bill Belichick tries to narrow his roster from 75 to 53 players.
Stars such as quarterback Tom Brady, cornerback Darrelle Revis and wide receiver Julian Edelman likely will be in uniform but spending most of their time chatting and goofing around on the sideline. This is a game for young players to prove they deserve a spot on the 53-man roster or practice squad, not for proven starters to risk suffering a late-summer injury just over one week away from the regular season.
Instead of Brady, Revis and Edelman, we’ll see quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, cornerback Malcolm Butler and wideout Brian Tyms. Check out which players to watch in what could be a sloppy, high-scoring affair.
YOUNG OFFENSIVE LINEMEN MUST STEP UP
Logan Mankins is gone to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and the Patriots have three spots to fill on their offensive line. Belichick hasn’t given many indications this summer about who will start at left guard, center or right guard during the season, and Thursday night’s game isn’t the time to try to deceive regular-season opponents. It’s time to see who can step in and start along the interior offensive line.
Marcus Cannon, Josh Kline, Jordan Devey, Chris Barker, and rookies Jon Halapio, Cameron Fleming and Bryan Stork all should see plenty of reps against the Giants. Based on preseason and training camp reps, it appears the Patriots want to replace either Ryan Wendell or Dan Connolly with a younger starter.
JIMMY GAROPPOLO GETS THE START
Garoppolo could push Ryan Mallett off the Patriots’ roster with a complete performance against the Giants. Doing so won’t be an easy task, however. The rookie quarterback will face the Giants’ starters to begin the game, and he has mostly played against second- and third-stringers thus far in the summer.
Garoppolo has been extremely impressive in the Patriots’ first three preseason games, and another similar performance will earn him the No. 2 quarterback role in New England.
WHICH VETERANS WILL PLAY?
It’s not a good sign for a veteran to be playing in the Patriots’ fourth and final preseason game. Adrian Wilson played into the second half last year against the Giants, then was placed on injured reserve.
Connolly, Wendell, running back Stevan Ridley and safety Patrick Chung are candidates for the dreaded Game 4 snaps. There has been speculation that Ridley could be on his way out of New England during Saturday cuts. I still believe Ridley is the best running back on the roster, but he’ll have to impress if Belichick decides he needs to see more of the fourth-year pro.
LAST CHANCE FOR YOUNG PLAYERS TO SHINE
Belichick said on WEEI this week that one or two young players typically solidify their spot on the 53-man roster during the fourth preseason game.
Undrafted rookie linebacker James Morris, who re-signed with the Patriots at the tail end of training camp, hasn’t had many opportunities to showcase his skills for the Patriots, but he has a chance to start with Jerod Mayo, Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins likely sitting this game out. Defensive tackle Jerel Worthy, who was back onto the field last week against the Carolina Panthers after being acquired from the Green Bay Packers, also can prove he deserves a spot on the Patriots’ roster with a strong game.
Tyms, Butler and running back Jonas Gray have had a strong preseason in New England, but an impressive showing in the preseason finale can’t hurt their chances of earning a roster spot.
STARTING STRONG SAFETY TO BE DECIDED
The Patriots could elect to use a rotation at strong safety this year with Devin McCourty holding down the free safety spot, but one player still can earn an every-down role there. If Duron Harmon can impress in the preseason finale, he has the potential to be what the Patriots need at strong safety.
Harmon had an interception last week against the Panthers, but if he can be consistent against the run and pass, he can earn an every-down starting job.