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Pats-Jaguars: Five things to watch

By MARK DANIELS
The Providence Journal, R.I.

August 09. 2017 9:11PM


FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The preseason is finally upon us.

Tonight, the Patriots will take on the Jacksonville Jaguars in their first preseason game of the 2017 season. At 7:30 p.m., fans and media alike will finally get a look at this much anticipated squad. Of course, the look of this team will vastly differ in a month once the team cuts down from 90 to 53 players.

Nevertheless, the summer is time for unknown players to standout and for bubble players to try and earn a spot on the Patriots roster. Every summer, we learn something about these undrafted and unknown players alike. Whether it’s a kid from a small school like Malcolm Butler or undrafted center like David Andrews, it’s in these games where some can make their mark.

Here are five things to watch:

Quarterback play

This will forever be the main story heading into the preseason. How will Tom Brady look at 40? Will he play? Don’t expect the veteran to be in there for long, but this day will give all of us better looks at Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett.

Both young quarterbacks have had a rough summer. Garoppolo has thrown seven interceptions and has looked off, but even he admitted he plays better in games than practice. Well, today’s the time for him to shine and prove once again he deserves to be a starter in this league. Brissett has had such a rough summer that there’s some speculation he’s on the roster bubble. This is a big preseason for the second-year player.

Rookie standouts

The Patriots don’t have a big draft class, but the hope is that what they make up for in size, they don’t lack in talent. This summer will be the first time we see Derek Rivers, Deatrich Wise, Tony Garcia and Conor McDermott in a Patriots uniform.

This game is also important for the large group of undrafted players. Defensive tackle Adam Butler, linebacker/edge rusher Harvey Langi, tight end Jacob Hollister and cornerbacks Kenny Moore and D.J. Killings have had solid summers. These type of players have the most riding on games like tonight. It’ll be here when they get the most playing time and where they need to prove themselves.

Defensive line rotation

Rob Ninkovich’s retirement put a wrinkle in the Patriots defensive line. Through 12 days of training camp, we’ve seen a laundry list of players rotating in with the starters. On the defensive line, Trey Flowers and Malcom Brown have been the mainstays, but Langi, Wise, Butler, Rivers, Lawrence Guy and Vincent Valentine have all worked with the starters. Most recently, it’s been the rookies (Langi, Wise, Butler and Rivers).

Against Jacksonville, it’ll be worth watching who not only starts, but if someone can separate themselves. There’s a starting spot — maybe two — available on the defensive line. Someone could steal it in these preseason games.

Running back rotation

The running game is usually an afterthought with the Patriots, but this summer the group — Mike Gillislee, Rex Burkhead, Dion Lewis, James White, Brandon Bolden and LeShun Daniels Jr. — looks to be the deepest in quite some time. With the first-team offense, we’ve seen Gillislee, Burkhead, Lewis, White and Bolden all get reps leaving little clarity on the situation.

Tonight will be interesting for this group. We’ll see how many of these backs play (more on that below) and who gets the majority of the first-quarter reps. Gillislee, Burkhead, Lewis and Bolden have all been used on the goal line. White, Lewis and Burkhead all look like capable receivers out of the backfield.

Injury watch

First, the Patriots need to do all they can to avoid any serious injuries in these preseason game. Expect them to proceed with caution. Since Shea McClellin, Matthew Slater, Eric Rowe and Matt Lengel were absent for Wednesday’s walkthrough, they’ll likely not play. The same goes for players who were limited like Nate Solder, Gillislee, Burkhead, James O’Shaughnessy, Cody Hollister and David Jones.

It bears watching how healthy the Patriots are right now and who doesn’t play against Jacksonville. Rob Gronkowski is known for not playing in the preseason so don’t be surprised if he never sees the field. Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and Vincent Valentine weren’t seen in the walkthrough so they’re not expected to play.


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