FOXBORO, Mass. — With two weeks of practices in the books, the Patriots will finally take the field against some fresh blood Thursday night. This week's Two-Minute Drill dives into some things to watch when the Pats host the Jaguars before covering some of the forgotten storylines from the last week.
1. I'd be surprised if Albert Haynesworth played in Thursday's preseason opener, but I'm still not putting stock into his string of absences from the practice field. They're monitoring his knee and his conditioning, and the obvious importance is to have him on the field Sept. 12 in Miami.
2. Bill Belichick was asked if there would be any extra urgency to give the starters more reps in the preseason due to the abbreviated training camp, and he responded, "I doubt you'll see it this week."
3. Therefore, expect a limited amount of reps Thursday, but it might be fair to think the starters will play more than usual in the third and fourth games of preseason.
4. It's been well-documented that Tom Brady and the offense have been a step behind the defense throughout much of camp, so the preseason opener should provide a good indication of the progress Brady has made. Things are a lot different when you're playing against live competition.
5. Speaking of which, I'm looking forward to watching the Patriots' running game against Jacksonville. Because there isn't a lot of full contact in the trenches during training camp, it's always difficult to completely gauge the running game's progress. Rookie Stevan Ridley has looked very strong, and that will come into clearer focus Thursday.
6. Watch for wide receiver Taylor Price on special teams Thursday. He's played various roles on kickoff return, punt return and kickoff coverage, which to me is a sign that the coaching staff is trying everything possible to get him onto the active roster for game days this season. Price has been the best of the second tier of wide receivers so far in camp, but he'll still need to contribute on special teams to warrant one of the 46 active spots for regular-season games.
7. Rookie left tackle Nate Solder has looked very sturdy during his first week of camp, which might be even more impressive considering he signed a week late. Still, if Matt Light (physically unable to perform list) and right guard Dan Connolly (minor elbow injury) aren't dressed Thursday, it's probably a good idea to sit Brady after a series or two.
8. Ryan Wendell hasn't practiced since July 31. With him and Connolly out Tuesday, Rich Ohrnberger and Mark LeVoir filled out the top two spots on the depth chart. Ohrnberger was predictable for that role, but LeVoir was more of a surprise since he's a tackle.
9. Steve Maneri, who played exclusively as a tight end at Temple, spent the majority of the 2010 season on the Patriots' practice squad as a tackle convert. He's played all right at left tackle so far at camp, but it's going to be tough for him to make the team since it looks like he's limited to just the left side. Light and Solder are already solely left tackles, and Sebastian Vollmer and LeVoir can play at both spots. The Patriots might hope to sneak him back onto the practice squad again.
10. Safety Brandon Meriweather hasn't had a very good training camp, and it probably wasn't much of a coincidence that the Patriots reportedly courted safety Dashon Goldson (who re-signed with San Francisco) over the weekend. Meriweather needs a strong showing in game action to ease the minds of the coaching staff.
11. Gary Guyton really struggled in pass protection Tuesday, and that's an area he's got to shore up if he's going to start at outside linebacker in the 4-3.
12. I'm curious to see how the Patriots use Stephen Gostkowski on Thursday. He has been used in a few field goal drills in the last week, but Chris Koepplin was kicking them Tuesday. Koepplin, who played at UMass, has been handling all of the kickoff duties in live drills, too. Gostkowski said last week that he wanted to play in every preseason game.
13. Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett are tied atop the leaderboard of the popular barrel drill at training camp. Each has hit it once, while Tom Brady is still scoreless. Hoyer, who won the competition in 2010, absolutely revels in his ability to get the best of Brady in the drill.
14. Mallett was surprised to catch a blocking pillow in the mug during a passing drill last week. Belichick caught Mallett looking in the wrong direction and threw the big blue pillow at him to teach him a lesson. "I've got the drill down now," Mallett said with a laugh.
15. The Patriots went heavy on situational football during Monday's practice, quickly transitioning from a goal-line touchdown run to a third-and-10 on the 30 with 25 seconds left, no timeouts remaining and needing a field goal.
"It's like a game," Connolly said of the way Belichick runs those drills. "It's constantly changing, different situations. We try to prepare ourselves as best for anything that we would see."
16. Belichick has also apparently instructed ball boys to mix up the shotgun snaps during practice drills. Here and there, they'll roll a snap or shoot one straight up into the air to keep the quarterback ready.
17. Chad Ochocinco offered an interesting take on getting acclimated with Brady and the offense.
"Communication is key," Ochocinco said. "That's about it, because once we're on the field, there is no talking. I just look in [Brady's] eyes, and that's it. That's how we communicate on the field. Pretty cool. That's what I like about here. Really, really cool. I don't even know if I'm allowed to say that, but it's cool."
18. Three NFL officials held a meeting with the Patriots last Wednesday to explain the new rule changes. The officials said the players didn't have many questions, but Belichick was very intent on learning how they'd administer the new kickoffs, where players must line up within five yards of the spotted football. The officials said a player must have one body part within five yards of the ball, so they can plant their feet about six yards behind the line of scrimmage as long as a hand is touching the line that is five yards behind the ball.
19. The officials also showed the players a video that diagrams the new rules, which the media also got to see. When the video got to the subject of illegal launching, it started with multiple highlights of Meriweather's hit on former Ravens tight end Todd Heap that resulted in a fine.
Yeah, that must have been an interesting moment in the theater.
20. Gerard Warren said his heart was only with New England before signing with the Patriots. Aside from the organization as a whole, Warren also wanted to have another run with his good friend, Vince Wilfork.
"That was one of the main reasons why I wanted to come back, as well, was because of Vince and the relationship that we bonded and built together last year," Warren said. "There's unfinished business and something we want to finish off this year."
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