The New England Patriots finally are returning to the game field after a long, six-month wait.
This matchup undoubtedly will be less exciting, but it’s a game nonetheless, even if it is meaningless. The Patriots take on the Jacksonville Jaguars at 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday night in their preseason opener at Gillette Stadium after two joint practices and one walkthrough.
Here are nine players we’re excited to watch after two weeks of training camp.
QB JIMMY GAROPPOLO
James G. hasn’t had the most spectacular two weeks of training camp. He played well in limited practice reps against the Jaguars and typically is better in games than in practice. We’ll see if that holds up in what should be extended action against Jacksonville.
Don’t expect to see much, if any, of Brady in Week 1 of the preseason.
RB REX BURKHEAD
We’ll get a glimpse at how New England intends to use Burkhead this season in the team’s first preseason game. He can run between the tackles and catch out of the backfield, so we should see him used in a variety of ways.
The Patriots’ other running back offseason addition, Mike Gillislee, is injured, so Burkhead could potentially steal a starting role with a very strong preseason.
WR DEVIN LUCIEN
It hasn’t been all good for Lucien in training camp, but he has shown big-play ability, catching deep passes from New England’s quarterbacks despite some drops. It’s unlikely we’ll see much of Patriots top wideouts Julian Edelman, Brandin Cooks, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola or Malcolm Mitchell, so it should be the Lucien show Thursday night.
DT ADAM BUTLER
Butler has been an absolute beast in training camp and made Jaguars offensive linemen look foolish in 1-on-1 drills. He’s an undrafted free agent but has shown a ton of potential as an interior pass rusher and is receiving first-team defensive reps.
Three years ago, another undrafted free agent named Butler unexpectedly started the Patriots’ first preseason game. Anyone know what happened to him?
DE DEATRICH WISE
Wise is another rookie receiving first-team defensive reps. It’s only slightly less surprising, since he was a fourth-round pick rather than an undrafted free agent.
Wise is big, strong and long. He has the potential to dominate Jaguars offensive linemen.
DE DEREK RIVERS
New England’s top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft came on strong this week and began to receive first-team reps with Shea McClellin out of practice. We’ll likely see Rivers play defensive end and linebacker. He’s a work in progress after coming out of Youngstown State, an FCS school, but has high upside thanks to his athleticism.
LB HARVEY LANGI
Hey look, another rookie who could start Thursday night. Langi, like Butler, is an undrafted free agent and also dominated pass-rush 1-on-1s against Jacksonville. He also has coverage ability and is the kind of chess piece Bill Belichick covets.
CB CYRUS JONES
Patriots fans just want to see him catch every punt that’s kicked his way.
CB KENNY MOORE
This spot could have gone to fellow undrafted cornerback D.J. Killings or safety Jason Thompson, all of whom have impressed in camp. It’s clear Belichick knows what he’s doing when signing defensive backs after the draft.
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