Preseason games can be a little tricky, so we’ll try to make Thursday night’s New England Patriots-Green Bay Packers matchup a little easier to digest.
There won’t be many familiar faces on the field for the Patriots. Starting quarterback Tom Brady is unlikely to play, and 17 players sat out with injuries during the team’s final padded practice before the game, so cross off wide receivers Julian Edelman, Aaron Dobson, and Brandon LaFell; running backs Dion Lewis, Travaris Cadet and LeGarrette Blount; linebackers Dane Fletcher and Eric Martin; offensive linemen Marcus Cannon, Bryan Stork, Ryan Wendell, Caylin Hauptmann and Nate Solder; defensive linemen Joe Vellano and Chris Jones, and tight ends Jake Bequette and Scott Chandler from your roster at home.
Wide receivers Brian Tyms and Matthew Slater and linebacker Dont’a Hightower were in red non-contact jerseys in practice, so cross them off too.
The Patriots’ remaining starters probably won’t be on the field for very long — maybe a series or two, as is usual for the first preseason game — so what you’re left with is backups and rookies.
In case you haven’t been paying attention to training camp, here are 10 players to watch in the Patriots’ first preseason action:
Jimmy Garoppolo (Quarterback, No. 10)
He’ll be tough to miss. He’s the Aladdin-looking guy who will be taking the majority of snaps under center against the Packers’ defense.
Garoppolo has had up and down moments in training camp, but as long as his offensive line holds up and targets don’t drop the ball — either literally or figuratively — Jimmy G should be fine in the Patriots’ 2015 preseason opener.
It will be interesting to see if the Patriots switch up their offense for Garoppolo. He has a similar skill-set to Brady, but he has a tendency to use his athleticism to roll out and give his receivers time to get open more frequently than the Patriots starter.
James White (Running Back, No. 28)
White can catch, but it’s unclear what else he can do for the Patriots. He’s undersized and doesn’t possess elite athleticism, but if he can block and find a way to break a few tackles, then he still could earn the Patriots’ third-down job.
White will have to have an impressive preseason to fend off Brandon Bolden for that pass-catching role, however.
Jimmay Mundine (Tight End, No. 81)
Mundine’s skill-set is intriguing, but he has an uphill battle for a roster spot. He’s 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, has sub-7-second 3-cone speed, and he caught 86 passes for 1,082 yards during his Kansas career.
Mundine can line up at tight end, H-back and wide receiver, but he’ll need to prove he can block to make it in the NFL. At the very least, it should be fun to see what he can do after the catch.
Tre’ Jackson (Offensive Guard, No. 63) and Shaq Mason (Offensive Guard, No. 69)
Jackson and Mason likely will be positioned at right guard and left guard, respectively, for most of the night, protecting Garoppolo. Jackson has fared well throughout camp and should hold up pretty well against the Packers.
Mason should be fine run blocking, in which he has plenty of experience, but protecting Garoppolo could be an adventure. This game will show where Mason stands after just three months in the NFL, and it will give the Patriots an idea of whether there’s any chance he could begin the season as a starter.
Dominique Easley (Defensive Lineman, No. 99)
This is Easley’s second year in the NFL, but it will be his first preseason. Easley didn’t play in any games last summer as he continued to rest his injured knee. Easley looks a little slimmed down this year, and it will be interesting where and when he lines up on the Patriots’ defensive line. His most natural role is that of a third-down three-technique defensive tackle. He could line up at defensive tackle, or defensive end in a 3-4 or 4-3, in the Patriots’ regular defense, however.
Zach Moore (Defensive Lineman, No. 90)
Moore has packed on 20 pounds of muscle since he was drafted by the Patriots last spring, and he’s shifted over from defensive end to more of an interior role. It was a wise move for the big Division-II product, whose testing numbers better suited a defensive tackle than end.
We’ll see if Moore was able to retain his speed and athleticism despite the added bulk. With a big preseason, Moore could take on an important role in the Patriots’ defense.
Jonathan Freeny (Linebacker, No. 55)
Freeny received heaps of praise from Bill Belichick on Tuesday, and it appears he’s competing with James Morris for the top reserve linebacker spot in the Patriots’ defense. Dont’a Hightower is unlikely to play against the Packers, so either Freeny or Morris could start Thursday.
Darryl Roberts (Cornerback, No. 28)
Roberts has been a training camp standout for the Patriots, but we’ll see how that will translate against the Packers’ wide receivers. The Marshall product had some shaky moments early in camp, but he’s been tough to throw on for the last week. He’s battling for the fifth cornerback spot on the Patriots’ regular season roster.
Jordan Richards (Safety, No. 37)
Richards has played all over the Patriots’ defense in his first training camp, and while his college scouting reports seem to peg him as a strong safety, we’ll get a better sense of how the Patriots view him after Thursday night. Richards has impressed at both free safety and strong safety, and given his impressive size, Richards could even take on a hybrid-linebacker or slot role.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images
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