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August 09. 2013 12:11AM

Brady needs to play tonight


Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, of Manchester, and Patriots head coach Bill Belichick talk during a joint practice at the NovaCare complex in Philadelphia earlier this week. The two teams square off in their preseason opener tonight. John Geliebter-USA TODAY Sports 

FOUR YEARS AGO, the Patriots traveled to Philadelphia to open the exhibition season against the Eagles. There were some new pieces to indoctrinate offensively, and a tone to be set, so Bill Belichick kept Tom Brady on the field for four series and 24 plays.

It remains, In his 11 years as New England’s starter, the most the quarterback has ever played in the first preseason game. But as they return to Lincoln Financial Field tonight, it wouldn’t be a bad idea for Brady and Belichick to reset that mark.

Yes, it comes with risk of injury. But with last year’s top five receivers now on other teams, on the physically unable to perform list, or facing a murder charge, it’s a risk the Pats need to take.

Just consider how much Belichick thought his team gained from working out with Chip Kelly’s Eagles on Tuesday. They hadn’t even gone through the second day of practice together, and already the Pats coach was happily declaring “we’re a better team today than we were yesterday.”

“Our team saw some things that we hadn’t seen before that we had to adjust to, which was good. Had a good opportunity to go through the film and make some corrections,” he said.

Game film would have more value, as would game experience, considering that, for a lot of these guys, everything is new. Remember, rookies Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld have never played a down professionally, while veterans Danny Amendola and Michael Jenkins have never been in a huddle with Brady.

Without Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez, Brady has nobody to fall back on — so he needs to know as much about his new weapons as he can.

That’s a knowledge that can only truly be acquired amid game conditions.

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Tonight marks the first game on an NFL sideline for Kelly, who was born in Dover, graduated from Manchester Central, then went on to play and (eventually) coach at the University of New Hampshire.

He earned this opportunity by what he did at the University of Oregon, when his Ducks featured a fast-paced, aggressive style that has a lot of people anxious to see how much of that he brings to the pro game.

“I have so much respect for Chip and what he’s done,” Belichick told reporters this week. “He’s a very innovative, creative guy. He’s got a great mind, he’s smart, and I think he’ll take advantage of whatever resources he can. ... I’m sure he’ll give us plenty of trouble.”

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The Eagles nearly had another UNH connection tonight, but ex-Wildcat receiver David Ball was released Tuesday night after attempting to resuscitate his career under his former offensive coordinator. The Eagles said Ball had a quadriceps injury that kept him out of practice a few days before being cut, but Ball told the Burlington Free Press that he was facing surgery and 12-14 weeks of recovery with a pinky injury that includes multiple fractures, a dislocation and a torn tendon.

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Five Patriots to keep an eye on tonight: Amendola, No. 80, as he looks to become Brady’s new go-to target; Dobson (17), the second-round receiver who’s had a solid camp by all accounts; Sudfeld (44), the undrafted rookie tight end who is big and athletic in the passing game; Chandler Jones (95), the defensive end looking to make the famed second-year leap; Adrian Wilson (24) the veteran safety signed to bring stability to the secondary.

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Dave D’Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com.


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