After two weeks of training camp in the sweltering Foxboro sun, it’s finally time for some real football.
OK, somewhat “real” football.
We likely won’t see many New England Patriots starters play significant snaps in Thursday night’s preseason opener against the Washington Redskins at Gillette Stadium, but there will be plenty of intriguing players to watch as the Patriots take the field for the first time since Super Bowl LII.
Here are a few:
Running backs Mike Gillislee (No. 35) and Jeremy Hill (No. 33)
Gillislee and Hill likely are fighting for just one roster spot. Hill seems to have a slight edge at the moment, but since tackling is frowned upon in training camp practices, preseason games tend to paint a far clearer picture of running back play. Expect to see a lot of undrafted rookie Ralph Webb in the second half, too.
Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (No. 51)
As is the case with running backs, it’s difficult for linebackers to stand out in practice unless they’re making plays in coverage. Bentley has made a few of those and appears to be further along than fellow 2018 draft pick Christian Sam, but neither has shown enough thus far to make Elandon Roberts, a starter for much of the past two seasons, sweat for his roster spot.
Defensive end Derek Rivers (No. 95)
Remember him? The Patriots’ top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft is back to full strength after missing his entire rookie season with a torn ACL. Rivers hasn’t seen much time with the top defense thus far, but he could play his way into the pass rush rotation with a strong preseason.
Cornerbacks Jason McCourty (No. 30), Duke Dawson (No. 42) and J.C. Jackson (No. 34)
McCourty is battling with Eric Rowe for the right to replace Malcolm Butler in the starting lineup, and while he’s played well this summer, Rowe has taken the vast majority of the first-team snaps. Dawson, a second-round draft pick, has been New England’s top slot corner in camp but hasn’t wowed anyone with his play in practice. Jackson, one of the stars of spring practice, is looking to become the latest undrafted rookie corner to crack the Patriots’ 53-man roster.
Offensive tackles Trent Brown (No. 77) and Isaiah Wynn (No. 76)
Brown has garnered rave reviews thus far and appears to have a firm grasp on the starting left tackle spot. This will be his first game in a Patriots uniform. It’ll also be interesting to see how Wynn, New England’s top draft pick, fares against an NFL pass rush. He’s played almost exclusively with the second team thus far.
Wide receivers Eric Decker (No. 81), Cordarrelle Patterson (No. 84), Braxton Berrios (No. 14) and Riley McCarron (No. 17)
It’s not yet clear whether Decker, who just joined the team last week, will be ready to suit up for this game, but fellow newcomers Patterson and Berrios and 2017 practice squadder McCarron all should be out there. Patterson has made some phenomenal catches in camp, and we’ll get to see what he can do in the NFL’s new kickoff format. Slot receivers Berrios and McCarron have begun to flash a bit more in practice over the past week and are among the several players competing for punt return duties.
Quarterback Danny Etling (No. 5)
Etling has not fared particularly well in his first NFL training camp, but the seventh-round pick should see plenty of reps against Washington. Starter Tom Brady hasn’t played in three of the last four preseason openers and played just seven snaps in the fourth.
Safety Eddie Pleasant (No. 26)
Pleasant, who spent the last six seasons with the Houston Texans, could bump Jordan Richards off the roster if he outplays him this summer. Given the way Richards has performed over the past few years, Patriots fans surely wouldn’t hate that.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
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