FOXBORO, Mass. — There are myriad questions facing the Patriots ahead of Thursday night’s preseason opener against the New York Giants.
How will the new-look offense fare after an at-times ugly training camp? Which cornerbacks will separate themselves in one of New England’s most competitive roster battles? Will the rookies — Cole Strange, Tyquan Thornton, Marcus and Jack Jones, etc. — be up to the task?
And the simplest one: Who will actually play, and for how long?
Head coach Bill Belichick was asked before Tuesday’s practice whether starting quarterback Mac Jones will see action against the Giants. His response: “We haven’t even had those conversations yet.”
Last year, the Patriots played their offensive starters — which at the time included quarterback Cam Newton — for the first two series of the preseason. They then left their top offensive line in for one additional drive with Jones and a collection of backup skill players.
If they follow that same blueprint, we can expect to see at least a handful of snaps for Jones, the Patriots’ retooled starting O-line and top skill players like Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Kendrick Bourne, Nelson Agholor, Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith.
That group has looked disjointed throughout the summer, with the line, in particular, struggling to adjust to the Patriots’ new offensive scheme. Communication has been a persistent problem up front, leading to blocking breakdowns and frustration for Jones.
One could argue that New England’s offense needs all the reps it can get with a month to go before the regular-season opener. But ESPN’s Mike Reiss suggested the starters might not even see the field Thursday night.
In Reiss’ view, after watching the structure of Tuesday’s practice, “it would be a surprise” if Jones played against New York.
“The Patriots worked off ‘cards’ for the first time, which is when they show one side of the ball something specific to do in preparation for an upcoming game,” Reiss wrote. “When the defense worked off cards, the quarterbacks were Brian Hoyer and Bailey Zappe, which could be a tip-off that Mac Jones (and many other starters) aren’t going to play in Thursday’s preseason opener against the Giants. Jones’ reps in that part of practice came when he ran ‘cards’ for the defense that figures to play most of the snaps Thursday night.”
Giants head coach Brian Daboll told reporters this week he plans to play his healthy starters in New York’s visit to Gillette Stadium. Kickoff Thursday night is set for 7 p.m. ET.
The Patriots’ preseason continues next week with two joint practices and a home game against the Carolina Panthers, followed by practices with and a game against Josh McDaniels’ Raiders in Las Vegas.
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