Another week, another set of joint practices, another opponent loaded with familiar faces.
After visiting Matt Patricia’s Detroit Lions for three practices and a preseason game, the New England Patriots touched down in Nashville on Tuesday for two joint sessions and an exhibition matchup against the Tennessee Titans.
The Patriots’ last trip to the Music City was one to forget: Mike Vrabel’s troops whipped their head coach’s former team 34-10 last November in one of New England’s worst midseason losses in years. The stakes are considerably lower in this return trip, but there’s still plenty to learn about this Patriots squad as cutdown day draws closer.
Here are five prominent storylines we’ll be following during Patriots-Titans joint practice, the first of which kicks off at 10:50 a.m. ET on Wednesday:
1. O-line in progress
Is this the week we see Isaiah Wynn finally take over the starting left tackle spot? Wynn began running with the first-team offense in full-contact 11-on-11 drills on Monday but rotated with Dan Skipper, who’s filled in there for much of the summer. These joint practices should feature Wynn’s first live reps against non-Patriots pass rushers since he tore his Achilles last August, and there’s a chance the 2018 first-round draft pick could make his preseason debut Saturday night.
2. Tight end shuffle
Who will start at tight end for the Patriots in Week 1? Who the heck knows. Matt LaCosse reportedly won’t practice or play in Tennessee after spraining his ankle in New England’s preseason opener against the Lions, and Stephen Anderson has been limited in the last few practices, as well. We’ll get our first real look this week at newcomer Eric Saubert, who debuted at Tuesday’s walkthrough following a trade from the Atlanta Falcons.
Saubert is known for his athleticism but not his pass-catching. He has just five receptions in 30 career NFL games, and pre-draft scouting reports decried his shaky hands. Ryan Izzo and Andrew Beck also aren’t prolific receivers, though both impressed as blockers against the Lions.
Lance Kendricks’ stats weren’t great last season (19-170-1 in 16 games for Green Bay), but he’s been a moderately productive pass-catcher over his eight-year NFL career. Kendricks returned to practice Monday after missing two weeks with an undisclosed injury and should be in the mix in Tennessee.
3. Patriots receivers vs. Titans secondary
The Titans boast a talented defensive backfield (Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan, Adoree Jackson, Kevin Byard, Kenny Vaccaro, etc.) that held Tom Brady to his lowest completion percentage of the 2018 season when these teams met last November. We unfortunately won’t get to watch the injured Julian Edelman recreate his legendary practice battles with Butler and Ryan, but it’ll be revealing to see how the Patriots’ new-look receiving corps measures up against this bunch.
Undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers and second-year pro Braxton Berrios both had strong weeks against the Lions, and veteran newcomer Maurice Harris has flashed potential this summer, as well. It appears unlikely we’ll see first-round draft pick N’Keal Harry in these practices, though the injury he suffered last Thursday reportedly is minor.
One player to watch here will be Dontrelle Inman, the 30-year-old journeyman who finally showed some signs of life in the preseason opener (two catches for 23 yards, including a near-touchdown) after a largely silent first few months in New England.
4. Another step for Stidham?
Jarrett Stidham’s NFL debut was a smashing success. The fourth-round rookie completed 14 of 24 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown — plus three would-be scores that slipped through receivers’ hands — in New England’s 31-3 demolition of Detroit. He has, on the whole, looked better this summer than any Patriots rookie quarterback in recent memory.
Established vet Brian Hoyer finished with as many touchdown passes (two) as incompletions in his quarter-and-a-half of work against the Lions and still owns the top backup spot behind Brady, but Stidham could threaten him if the youngster continues on his current trajectory.
5. The one that got away
In addition to the myriad ex-Patriots on Tennessee’s roster (Butler, Ryan, Dion Lewis, etc.), the Titans also have a player the Pats tried hard to land over the offseason: slot receiver Adam Humphries. The Patriots attempted to woo Humphries to Foxboro late in the free agency process, but he turned them down, saying he’d already committed to joining Vrabel’s squad.
Things seem to be working out nicely for the 26-year-old thus far. Quarterback Marcus Mariota targeted Humphries on six of the Titans’ first 10 snaps in their preseason opener, resulting in four catches for 24 yards, including two third-down conversions.
“He makes it easy,” Mariota told reporters after that game, a 27-10 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. “He finds soft zones. He is a tough matchup for other teams. And again, he just makes it easy on us.”
It’ll be fun to watch Humphries match up this week against Patriots slot corner Jonathan Jones, who’s been one of New England’s defensive summer standouts.
Thumbnail photo via Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports Images