Patriots vs Eagles: 10 Keys to Week Two of the Preseason

6. Now that left guard Logan Mankins is active, will he see action?

New England activated Logan Mankins from the physically-unable-to-perform list last Sunday, and on Thursday began working with his teammates in drills. Considering the lack of depth along the offensive line, it will be interesting to see whether or not Mankins sees the field against the Eagles; New England started Donald Thomas at left guard last week but shifted him to right guard during practice this week in favor of Nick McDonald.

Mankins is undoubtedly eager to see the field but it may be wise to bring him along slowly in his recovery from ACL surgery. On the other hand, New England may want to see what he can do in a game situation at this point in his recovery; seeing Mankins back with the first-team offense tomorrow would be very reassuring. If Mankins is inactive, look for New England to rotate Dan Connolly, Nick McDonald, Donald Thomas, and Ryan Wendell at guard. Long shots Derek Dennis and Jeremiah Warren may also see some reserve action.

7. Who will get the start at center, Dan Koppen or Ryan Wendell?

New England’s coaching staff appears to be impressed with the development of Ryan Wendell; the 26 year-old lineman is considered a lock for the final 53-man roster. Meanwhile, Dan Koppen is on the roster bubble entering his tenth season after starting 120 games over his first eight years in the league; Koppen suffered a broken ankle in the season opener last year and was effectively replaced by a platoon of centers including Wendell, Dan Connolly, and Nick McDonald.

Koppen has struggled throughout training camp practices and in the preseason opener last week; he earned the start against the Saints, but whether or not he can hold off Wendell for the start this week remains to be seen. If Wendell lines up with the first-team offense to begin the game, it could be the beginning of the end for Koppen in New England.

8. Will any of the defensive tackles emerge as front-runners for roster spots?

New England’s defensive tackle depth offers the Patriots a great deal of schematic flexibility. However, it is unlikely that New England will carry six or seven defensive tackles into the regular season. The team has a number of players competing for roster spots behind starters Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love, including Ron Brace, Brandon Deaderick, Gerard Warren, and undrafted rookie Marcus Forston.

With Myron Pryor on the physically-unable-to-perform list and both Jonathan Fanene and Gerard Warren missing the week of practice, it will be interesting to see whether or not players such as Brace and Deaderick can make the most of their increased playing time and secure spots on the final roster at the expense of a veteran player such as Warren. Of course, poor performances by either player could set them back.

9. Can defensive end Chandler Jones repeat his debut performance?

Chandler Jones has an incredibly productive preseason debut last week, dominating Saints left tackle Jermaine Bushrod en route to drawing two straight holding calls and recording two tackles. Rob Ninkovich has been a reliable producer during his tenure in New England but is not projected as a dynamic pass rusher; the Patriots will need consistent pressure from Chandler Jones in order to improve their defense substantially in 2012.

Jones rushed out of both two and three-point stances in the preseason opener and used his length and strength to impress; whether or not Jones can match his previous performance will surely be one of the main storylines to follow as New England takes the field Monday night. One aspect of the game to keep an eye on is whether or not Jones is used in coverage at all; New England has asked him to make some short zone drops during practice.

10. How will the Patriots’ defensive backs handle Philadelphia’s speedy receivers?

Despite losing Michael Vick to a thumb injury in their preseason debut, Philadelphia’s passing game looked very effective against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week; the Eagles’ three backup quarterbacks (Nick Foles, Trent Edwards, and Mike Kafka) combined for a 23/39 line with 281 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception. Jeremy Maclin sat out last week after straining his hamstring during warmups but appears ready to play on Monday night; he will line up opposite DeSean Jackson. Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington both played well in last week’s game and will have Jackson and Maclin to contend with this week; Andy Reid mentioned that his starters will play the entire first half of the game and part of the third quarter. A staggering 14 Eagles caught at least one pass in the preseason opener; New England’s pass defense faces a major test on Monday even if Vick is limited.

Other New England defensive backs who are battling for a roster spot (Will Allen, Josh Barrett, Sergio Brown, Nate Ebner, Derrick Martin, Ross Ventrone, Malcolm Williams) are also expected to get some opportunities to impress the Patriots’ coaching staff and separate themselves from injured players such as Alfonzo Dennard and James Ihedigbo, who both missed numerous practices this week.

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