The New England Patriots will get to test their mettle against actual opponents this week when they head to Detroit for three joint practices with the Lions.
Here are six Patriots players that would benefit most from solid performances in the Motor City:
Offensive tackle Isaiah Wynn
We still haven’t seen Wynn take part in any full-contact drills, but he got some reps in 11-on-11s during Friday’s non-padded practice — a positive step forward for the 2018 first-round pick as he continues to recover from the torn Achilles that cost him his entire rookie season. Will he be back to 100 percent by the time the Patriots leave Detroit? We’ll see. If not, expect to see Dan Skipper continue to take first-team reps at left tackle.
Edge rusher Derek Rivers
Rivers was squarely on the bubble entering the summer after spending most of last season in healthy scratch land, but he’s seen a surprising number of reps with the first-team defense in camp. The Patriots are using him more as a stand-up outside linebacker now — adding coverage responsibilities to his plate — and it’ll be very intriguing to see how he fares in this adjusted role against the Lions’ offense this week.
Wide receiver Braxton Berrios
Berrios has had his moments in camp — his full-extension diving touchdown catch Friday was a gem, for sure — and has gotten steady run with Tom Brady and the first-team, but he still struggles to create separation and get open. His frequent battles with slot corner Jonathan Jones have been severely one-sided. And with undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers playing himself into the roster conversation, Berrios has ground to make up if he hopes to make the team this season.
Tight end Matt LaCosse
We’ve had LaCosse pegged as the likely Week 1 starter since the spring, but outside of the highlight-reel catch he had over Elandon Roberts last week, he hasn’t exactly blown us away in camp. In fact, he has as many drops in competitive situations (three) as receptions in 11-on-11 drills. A strong showing in Detroit would go a long way toward stabilizing what remains an unsteady post-Rob Gronkowski tight end group.
Safety Obi Melifonwu
Melifonwu is an athletic marvel, and he’s been around the ball a lot this summer, leading all defenders with three interceptions and adding an additional pass breakup. Is there room for him on the roster, though? He’ll need to prove he deserves a spot in a safety group that includes mainstays Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon, newcomer Terrence Brooks and stud special teamer Nate Ebner, who’s been sidelined with an injury.
Cornerback Duke Dawson
Remember how we said Jones has consistently gotten the better of Berrios this summer? He’s absolutely smashed Dawson, who’s battling him for the top slot corner spot. While Jones has been one of the most consistent cover men in camp, Dawson has lagged behind, tallying two pass breakups to Jones’ five and struggling to stick with receivers without resorting to grabbing. After not playing at all as a rookie last season, Dawson still has a long way to go.