NEPD Staff Writer CJ Sousa
We’re (almost) there. Meaningful football is right around the corner – I promise. In terms of meaningful football in the pre-season, tonight will be as good as it gets. The third pre-season game is normally when starters get extended action into the second half. Also, coaches will give specific looks to guys in competition running alongside the first team.
Last week we highlighted three position groups to watch against the Saints. Today – a more specific look into what Patriots have the most to play for tonight. Here are five Patriots I will be keeping a close eye on.
He was given the spotlight last week, and thrived. Lewis played 28 snaps, being productive with the football (48 yards on 8 touches, 1 touchdown) and proved his worth protecting the quarterback on passing downs. He has shown a certain burst and quickness that I’m not sure any other running back on the roster currently have. Why will tonight be extra important for Lewis? His main competition for the last RB spot (Travaris Cadet) is expected to suit up after being held out last week due to injury.
Listen, Chandler is on the team. However tonight is extremely important for the former Buffalo Bill. He has yet to have any game action with Tom Brady, so building chemistry and trust with #12 in live action will be important in the true final dress rehearsal before the regular season. Chandler poses all sorts of issues for opposing defenses due to his shear size, and could have a major impact in 2015 if he can get on the right page with Brady. Tonight could be a very important building block.
Before the Darryl Roberts injury, I didn’t have Fletcher pegged on the 53 man roster. However the potentially season threating injury to Roberts gives Fletcher has another chance. Currently, the Patriots only have 5 healthy cornerbacks on the roster. That would appear – at least on the surface – to be good news for Fletcher. However an abundance of safety’s makes Fletcher’s final cornerback spot interesting. He’s been underwhelming in my eyes all pre-season, and faces a potential make or break game tonight as the Patriots can always add an outside free agent after final cuts.
The linebacker has received recent praise from Bill Belichick, and looks to lock up a secure position tonight. He’s probably on the roster already, but Morris should look to solidify a fourth linebacker role. The front of Sheard, Ninkovich and Jones (combined with the ultra versatile Jamie Collins) will ultimately keep the ‘true’ linebacker snaps down this season as I expect a lot of two linebacker base sets. However, if something were to happen to Jerod Mayo (again) or Dont’a Hightower (past injury issues), somebody needs to be the next guy up. It could be Morris on opening day if the Iowa product has a solid showing tonight.
Asante Cleveland & Jimmy Mundine
OK, I’m cheating here a bit. And it’s not that I have a personal issue with Michael Hoomanawanui the person. I’m sure he’s a great dude. I just don’t understand how he still has a roster spot in 2015 and even better don’t understand why so many people have penciled him in as a 53 man guy so soon. He adds next to nothing in the passing game, and his abilities in the blocking game can be found elsewhere. Asante Cleveland was just acquired via trade. At 6’5 250lbs he moves well for his size and is a true asset over the middle of the field. Jimmy Mundine is a personal favorite of mine, an undrafted free agent from Kansas. A swiss-army knife like player, Mundine is explosive in short spaces and can do great things with the football. His blocking, understanding of the offense, and consistency are all still a work in progress, but the positives are there to give him a long look. Admittedly, I’m rooting for one of these two to grab a roster spot tonight.