After two weeks and 11 practice sessions, the New England Patriots are finally ready to play their first preseason game Thursday.
The Patriots will take on the Lions after three joint practices in Detroit. We’ve learned a lot about the 2019 squad through hours and hours of practice sessions, but there are some questions that only can be answered in live game action.
Here’s what we’ll be looking for Thursday night:
1. How will Jarrett Stidham’s career begin?
We believe Jarrett Stidham has a chance to unseat Brian Hoyer for the Patriots’ backup quarterback job. This would probably require the Patriots to keep Danny Etling on their practice squad to serve as the team’s scout-team quarterback to let Stidham develop.
Stidham, however, must play well against live competition. He’s looked good in training camp, but games are a completely different story. Stidham struggled at times under pressure at Auburn. Will he be poised when the bodies are flying around him? This is Stidham’s first chance to truly show how far he’s grown since being selected in the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
2. Can Dan Skipper push for starting left tackle job?
Expect to see Skipper starting at left tackle with the Patriots’ second-string offensive line around him. We still believe Isaiah Wynn will be the Patriots’ left tackle when the season starts in September, but he’s not ready to play yet, which raises some question marks about his future availability. Skipper has everything on the line this summer. With an impressive preseason, he could be the Patriots’ starting left tackle. If he struggles, he could be cut.
3. Who stands out among crowded group at edge defender?
The Patriots seem to be moving to a three-man front this season, which requires them to have two outside linebackers who can rush the passer and retreat into the flat to cover running backs and tight ends.
Kyle Van Noy will be one of the outside linebackers. The candidates for the other role are Jamie Collins, Shilique Calhoun, Trent Harris, Derek Rivers, John Simon and Chase Winovich. Expect to see all of them play Thursday.
4. What’s going on at wide receiver?
We didn’t see Maurice Harris or Dontrelle Inman take part in Wednesday’s walk-through, which suggests they won’t play Thursday. That’s a little odd since both are competing for roster spots.
Braxton Berrios, Ryan Davis, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski and Damoun Patterson are expected to play Thursday while Julian Edelman, Demaryius Thomas, Cameron Meredith and N’Keal Harry are not. We’ll see which side Harris and Inman join.
5. Can a tight end please stand up?
The Patriots’ tight end depth is so shallow we actually hypothesized that the Patriots could keep two fullbacks Wednesday. It’s time for at least one of Matt LaCosse, Ben Watson, Stephen Anderson or Ryan Izzo to rise above the rest when the lights come on. At this point, there’s not a lot to like at tight end.
6. Will Duke Dawson show up?
Dawson didn’t play as a rookie after the Patriots spent a 2018 second-round pick on him. Since Dawson was drafted in April 2018, JC Jackson emerged as an intriguing young player as an undrafted free agent, seventh-round pick Keion Crossen was a standout special-teamer, and the Patriots drafted Joejuan Williams in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft. Now Dawson could be on the outside looking in at the 53-man roster.
Undrafted cornerback D’Angelo Ross has looked better than Dawson so far in training camp.
7. Is Braxton Berrios a gamer?
Berrios had a nice string of joint practices in Detroit, especially standing out in 1-on-1 drills with sharp route-running skills. He’s been up-and-down in training camp, however. A good preseason could vault him onto the roster.
8. Will Danny Etling catch a pass?
Etling moved from quarterback to wide receiver in training camp. He caught a few passes in 7-on-7 and walk-through drills in Detroit. How many snaps will he see at the new position Thursday?
9. Will Jakobi Meyers live up to hype?
Meyers has been running with the Patriots’ first-team offense over players like N’Keal Harry and Maurice Harris for about a week now. We still expect him to play Thursday. Now it’s time to prove his impressive practice reps were for real.
And they’ll need to be for this Patriots receiving corps to be a strength.
10. Who gets the first crack at punting?
The Ryan Allen vs. Jake Bailey punting competition really heats up Thursday. We wouldn’t be surprised if the Patriots used one punter per game. So, who’s it going to be in Week 1, and will he set himself apart?
11. Who won’t play?
These are the players we don’t expect to see a snap against the Lions: QB Tom Brady, RB Rex Burkhead (injured), RB Sony Michel, RB James White, WR N’Keal Harry, WR Matthew Slater, C David Andrews, RT Marcus Cannon, RG Shaq Mason, LG Joe Thuney, LT Isaiah Wynn, DE Michael Bennett, DT Lawrence Guy, LB Dont’a Hightower, LB Kyle Van Noy, SS Patrick Chung, CB Stephon Gilmore, CB Jonathan Jones, FS Devin McCourty, CB Jason McCourty, OT Yodny Cajuste (non-football injury list), SS Nate Ebner (physically unable to perform list), WR Julian Edelman (NFI), WR Josh Gordon (suspended), WR Cameron Meredith (PUP), WR Demaryius Thomas (PUP) and CB Ken Webster (PUP).