The New England Patriots will visit the Detroit Lions on Friday night in Week 3 of the NFL preseason.
Since the third preseason game typically bears the most resemblance to the kind of football we’ll see in the regular season, here are a few Patriots players we’ll be keeping tabs on in this one:
MIKE GILLISLEE, RB (No. 35)
Gillislee (hamstring) returned to practice this weekend and declared himself 100 percent healthy, so there’s a good chance he’ll make his Patriots debut against the Lions. Seeing how the former Buffalo Bill performs should give us a clearer picture of what New England’s running back hierarchy will look like to begin the regular season. Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead both have looked good so far this preseason.
DONT’A HIGHTOWER, LB (No. 54)
First off, we should note there’s no guarantee Hightower will play in this game. He just came off the physically unable to perform list this week, so the Patriots could take the cautious route and hold him out. If he does play, though, we could see him lining up more on the edge than in his typical linebacker spot.
Hightower practiced with the defensive line/ends this week, and the Patriots are thin at D-end following Rob Ninkovich’s retirement and Derek Rivers’ potentially season-ending knee injury. The D-end rotation as a whole bears watching, as Trey Flowers, Geneo Grissom and Deatrich Wise all sat out last weekend’s game. Wise still was recovering from the head injury he suffered in Week 1 of the preseason, but the reasons for Flowers’ and Grissom’s absences were unclear.
If Hightower is held out again, expect another heavy workload for hybrid linebacker Harvey Langi, who is on track to earn a roster spot as an undrafted rookie.
JAMES O’SHAUGHNESSY/JACOB HOLLISTER, TEs (Nos. 88 and 48)
Hollister dazzled in New England’s preseason opener, then took a back seat to O’Shaughnessy when the veteran returned to action Saturday against the Texans. We give O’Shaughnessy, a more experienced special teamer, a slight edge in the battle for the Patriots’ third tight end spot, but Hollister certainly could close that gap if he impresses over these next two games.
JUSTIN COLEMAN, CB (No. 22)
Coleman is fighting for a spot as the Patriots’ fifth cornerback, and he does not provide as much value on special teams as Cyrus Jones, who’s been a dependable kick/punt returner this summer. Coleman had a strong game in coverage against Houston, however, and remains in the mix for a roster spot. Expect to see him on the field a lot in the second half.
TOM BRADY, QB (No. 12)
Brady obviously has nothing to prove in this game, but it will be interesting to see how long he remains on the field. He stayed in until late in the second quarter in the third preseason game last year, played the full first half in 2015 and 2013, and played into the third quarter in 2014.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images