Is Thursday’s preseason game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles a Super Bowl LII rematch?
But sticking it to the team that spoiled their bid for a sixth title won’t be high on the Patriots’ priority list when Philly visits Gillette Stadium.
With training camp now over and just over two weeks remaining until final cuts, players will be focused on preparing themselves for the regular season, especially those who are on the roster bubble.
Here are six Patriots players we’ll be watching Thursday night:
Tom Brady, quarterback (No.12)
Brady expects to play against the Eagles after sitting out last Thursday’s preseason-opening win over the Washington Redskins. The 41-year-old likely won’t be on the field for long — he played just two series in Week 2 of the 2017 preseason — but it will be interesting to see how he looks in his first game action since Super Bowl Sunday.
Eric Decker, wide receiver (No. 81)
The newest addition to New England’s receiving corps has struggled with drops in practice and still is the process of learning Josh McDaniels’ offense, which Decker said has changed a lot since his time with McDaniels in Denver in 2010. The 31-year-old has four 1,000-yard seasons under his belt but isn’t a lock to make the roster, even with the Patriots’ lack of proven talent at wideout. Decker made only a brief cameo against the Redskins (six snaps, zero targets).
Jason McCourty, cornerback (No. 30)
It’s not hard to envision McCourty beginning the season as the Patriots’ No. 2 corner behind Stephon Gilmore. It also wouldn’t be surprising to see him cut. That’s how strange the Patriots’ usage of McCourty has been over these past few months. He didn’t play at all in the first preseason game but saw reps with the first-team defense this week after exclusively running with the second unit for the second unit for most of camp. McCourty should make his Patriots debut Thursday night, barring another unexpected DNP.
Isaiah Wynn, offensive tackle (No. 76)
Another player who surprisingly did not see the field last Thursday was Wynn, the Patriots’ top 2018 draft pick (23rd overall). The team has tried the Georgia product out at multiple positions since he arrived in Foxboro, lining him up at left guard in the spring, left tackle for the first few weeks of camp and right tackle beginning this past Sunday. If he plays against the Eagles, who boast one of the NFL’s best pass rushes, it likely would be on the right side, where LaAdrian Waddle currently is starting in place of the injured Marcus Cannon.
Mike Gillislee, running back (No. 35)
Gillislee didn’t impress against the Redskins (14 carries, 43 yards) and seems to be lagging behind in his roster battle with Jeremy Hill. There’s a chance we might not see Hill on Thursday, however, as he appeared to tweak something in practice early this week and didn’t participate in 11-on-11 drills Tuesday. If that’s the case, Gillislee should see his workload increase, especially with fellow backs Rex Burkhead and Sony Michel both out injured.
Cyrus Jones, cornerback (No. 41)
Jones missed last week’s game as he continues to work his way back from the season-ending torn ACL he suffered last August, but he could make his return to the field against the Eagles after being a full participant in practice this week. The 2016 second-round pick is looking to crack the roster either as a slot corner or as a punt returner, the latter being a position of need for the Patriots while Julian Edelman serves his four-game suspension.
Other players to watch: Linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (No. 51), running back Ralph Webb (No. 22), safety Eddie Pleasant (No. 26), defensive end Derek Rivers (No. 95), wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (No. 84), defensive end Keionta Davis (No. 58), punter Corey Bojorquez (No. 7), cornerback J.C. Jackson (No. 34)
Thumbnail photo via Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports Images