NEPD Staff Writer CJ Sousa
As we move deeper into the preseason, roster clarity becomes key. Preseason games can be a mess. Full of players you’ve never heard of, sloppy play and announcers mispronouncing every third players name.
However through the chaos there are story lines to follow. Let’s take a look at three position groups you should keep your eye on tonight.
LeGarrette Blount, James White and Jonas Gray are three guys I feel confident will be there Week 1. Brandon Bolden, due to his special teams ability as well as trust from Bill Belichick to protect Tom Brady on third down, is likely a shoe in as well. With Blount’s Week 1 suspension, this leaves the door open for one other player. Enter : Dion Lewis.
Lewis, the Pittsburgh Panthers’ product has been the talk of some conversation all offseason. He’s small, quick, and could resemble a Shane Vereen mold. He’s battled injuries his entire pro career – as well as this training camp. Tonight is his first real opportunity to shine in a game environment.
Even better for Lewis, his main competition for that last running back spot, Travaris Cadet, is not expected to play tonight due to injury. Lewis will have my attention, and should have yours as well.
The recent injury to Brian Tyms made the race for the 4-5 WR spot easier for the Patriots to decide.. or did it? Undrafted rookie Chris Harper has had a solid camp, and appeared to be a favorite of Jimmy Garoppolo in the first preseason game (7 catches, 48 yards).
Harper is throwing his name into the competition with 2013 4th round pick Josh Boyce, savvy veteran Brandon Gibson as well as 2013 2nd round pick Aaron Dobson – who has yet to lock up a roster spot and isn’t expected to play tonight due to injury.
Speaking of injuries, Julian Edelman and Brandon Lafell aren’t expected to suit up vs the Saints either. I wouldn’t expect many snaps from Danny Amendola, so expect to see a lot of Harper, Boyce, Gibson and possibly even Matthew Slater out wide tonight.
One name stood out to me against Green Bay, and not for the better. Jonathan Freeny was targeted over and over again by Aaron Rodgers with immense success. Granted, Freeny likely wouldn’t be in space as much in a regular season game – but nonetheless this is an area the Patriots’ need improvement.
Jerod Mayo has made progress to returning to the field Week 1, and the Patriots know what they have in Jamie Collins and Don’t’a Hightower. If that trio can remain healthy, the argument will be heard that could be the top linebacker core in the entire NFL.
Behind that trio, it gets murky. Very murky.
Dane Fletcher will likely open the season on the PUP list. MLB Eric Martin isn’t likely to suit up tonight as well. The real opportunity to shine tonight belongs to Darius Fleming, James Morris – as well as some redemption for Jonathan Freeny. Cameron Gordon and Dekoda Watson are also likely to see vast opportunities. The Patriots badly need somebody in this group to separate themselves and provide quality depth behind the top three. People love to talk about the cornerback situation, however this could be the most interesting positional battle to watch tonight.