After celebrating their third victory tour in the last five years, the New England Patriots are finally back to square one. The start of training camp last week officially ended their Super Bowl celebration as they now ride full steam ahead into the 2019 season.
Despite hoisting the Lombardi trophy just around six months ago, this team still has their work cut out for them this year. Losing players like Rob Gronkowski, Trey Flowers and Trent Brown just to name a few definitely shakes up the entire makeup of this roster. Although New England returned a lot of the players from their Super Bowl 53 squad, they are still searching to find their identity for this upcoming season.
With all of this being said, we have finally made it through the hardest part of the year and will actually get to see some live Patriots football for the first time since February.
Bill Belichick and the Patriots travel to Detroit to take on former Patriots DC Matt Patricia and the Lions this Thursday night for their first game of the preseason.
From what I can gather, most of the New England starters didn’t practice Wednesday which leads me to believe they won’t touch the field Thursday night. So unfortunately we won’t get to see some of the big names out there, but that doesn’t mean the game is unwatchable. In fact, there are many interesting story lines out there right now, and this game should help to give us fans some clarity as to what this roster will look like in September.
Here are some of the things to watch for on Thursday night:
Chase Winovich and His Luscious Locks in His Return to Michigan
Not only do we get to see Winovich’s angelic hair flowing in full action, but we will also see him play football. The third round defensive end out of the University of Michigan won’t have to worry about playing on the road in a hostile environment just yet, as he will have many Detroit fans cheering for him after a stellar career playing in Ann Arbor. Winovich has reportedly looked the best he has all camp this past week and is creeping up the depth chart. It is definitely a crowded defensive line group this year, but Winovich has the opportunity to carve himself out a role as a rotational piece early in the season and take off from there. Having an impressive showing in front of his “home” crowd will be a step in the right direction if he wants to get some real burn come regular season time.
Jarrett Stidham Leading the Offense
I’m not sure if Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham will be the “starting” QB for this game, but whenever the rookie out of Auburn comes in it will be very interesting to see how he fares. He has reportedly been somewhat of a surprise at camp, picking up the offense rather quickly and showcasing some skills that draft analysts didn’t think he had. I’m not looking for him to “wow” me with pure skill or make crazy throws, but rather I want to see how he handles making the right reads and throwing the ball on time and on target. In Patriot lingo, I need to see him do his job. The offensive play-calling in preseason is usually very vanilla but making the right decisions and not forcing anything is definitely something I want to see from the rookie. I’m not sold that Stidham is the heir apparent to Tom Brady (who will probably play until he is 60) but we may get a glimpse of what life without Brady COULD look like on Thursday night.
The Shaky Situation at Left Tackle
2018 First round pick Isaiah Wynn most likely won’t be active as he is still recovering from an achilles tear that sidelined him his entire rookie season and all of camp so far. Due to this, the LT position has become somewhat of a concern for the Patriots.
After being drafted in 2017, LT Dan Skipper has bounced around from practice squad to practice squad before ending up with the Patriots this year. He has reportedly taken the majority of the first team reps at LT so far throughout camp and has fared relatively well.
The Iron Man, LG Joe Thuney has also filled in the LT position at some points throughout camp with Ted Karras replacing him at LG, so it will be interesting to see how the position battle shakes up come game time. Either way, LT may be the most important position on the offensive line. If Isaiah Wynn won’t be ready for the start of the season, the Patriots need to have someone out there that they can trust to protect now 42 year old Tom Brady this year. Although it is just preseason and they won’t be necessarily put to the ultimate test, it is an important position to watch.
The Entire Patriot Secondary
If I had to give you the Patriot’s biggest strength coming into the season, it would be the depth and talent in their secondary. That being said, the reports coming out of joint practices with the Lions this week have claimed that the secondary was constantly getting lit up by both Matt Stafford and Tom Savage. Yes, I know that it is just training camp and these teams aren’t necessarily going as hard as they would during a game but they can put all the outside noise to rest with a good showing on Thursday.
2018 second round CB Duke Dawson missed all of his rookie year and is currently playing for a spot on the roster in 2019. He has had his moments in camp, but overall hasn’t showed that he was worth the second round selection. It is still early, but some reporters currently have him on the outside of the 53-man roster looking in. The Patriots have plenty of depth at CB this year but if he goes out there and starts making plays the Patriots will have a hard time not keeping him. He needs a strong preseason to help make this roster.
2019 second round CB Joejuan Williams doesn’t have a lot of hype around his name right now, and it will be interesting to see how he is used and how he fares in that role. I don’t see him being active this year given how crowded the CB room is but with his physical stature he could be activated for certain games to play against bigger receivers. If he goes out there and makes some plays he can start to gain the Patriot’s trust and possibly earn himself a small role come September.
After being cut by the Raiders last year the Patriots took a shot and signed 2017 second round pick Obi Melifonwu, who saw some playing time for them late in the season. Right now he is projected as mostly a special-teamer if he makes the roster, but he has impressed throughout camp making some highlight-reel plays. He can absolutely earn himself a roster spot with some solid play and given the aging safety room he could play himself into a larger role this season. It will be interesting to see if the Massachusetts kid can become a staple on the New England defense for the future, and it all starts with earning the coaches trust in the preseason.
The Battle for Pass-Catching Roster Spots
Much is being made of the fact that the Patriots don’t have a ton of continuity and depth at the WR position after Julian Edelman. There is currently a plethora of wide receivers battling it out to make the 53-man roster and it is really tough to project who is leading the pack. Here are the ones I am looking out for as I think they have a real shot to impress and make the team.
2018 sixth-round WR Braxton Berrios out of Miami spent all of last year on the practice squad and is hoping to actually be on the team this year. He has had his ups-and-downs throughout camp so far but the dude is a competitor and come game time he could look a lot different. I love his attitude and the way he plays the position so I hope he can turn some heads during this game and put himself in a better spot to make the roster as he is likely on the outside looking in at this point.
2019 undrafted free agent WR Jakobi Meyers has so far exceeded all expectations to this point. Every year, the Patriots have an undrafted rookie make the team and it’s looking like Meyers could be that guy this year. He reportedly already has strong rapport with Brady and has taken a lot of reps with the first-team offense. While all reports about Meyers have been positive, you can only gather so much information from practices. Hopefully he can translate all of the camp success to on the field triumphs and somewhat separate himself from the rest of the pack.
After spending last year with the Redskins, the Patriots signed WR Maurice Harris and early on he was looking like a front-runner to make the team. I think he is still firmly in that conversation but the playing field has somewhat evened out. He will have his shot to elevate his status on Thursday night and cement his spot at the top of the depth chart (behind Dorsett and Edelman) for the foreseeable future.
Everyone wants to see first round WR N’Keal Harry but given his recent leg injury scare I doubt he will be active for this game. I don’t think he necessarily has to fight for a roster spot but getting those live reps against real NFL competition is important for his development. He has had his good and bad days throughout training camp but it is obvious he is still a work in progress (as most rookies are at this time). We will probably have to wait at least another week to see Harry out there, but the main goal is to keep him healthy.
There are plenty of other names out there like Dontrelle Inman, recently signed Cameron Meredith, Damoun Patterson and Gunner Olszewski that are in similar positions to the aforementioned receivers but they haven’t been reportedly making as much noise as the others. It is possible for one of them to break out this game and shake up the current depth chart so keep an eye out for those names.
Can Danny Etling Become the Next Julian Edelman?
The second year QB out of LSU recently made the switch to WR per the Patriots request. He has taken reps at both QB and WR so far but doesn’t have the typical build of an NFL wide receiver. I don’t think they plan to use him as strictly a receiver but rather as a chess-piece/swiss army knife player. You saw what the Saints did with Taysom Hill last year, maybe the Patriots try to use him in a similar role? Knowing the Patriots, they won’t reveal their hand with how they plan to utilize Etling, if at all, but it will be interesting to see if he gets any snaps at WR/TE this game.
With the big names like Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett, Stephon Gilmore and N’Keal Harry likely not playing, the game might not seem too enticing to the average viewer. Let’s be real though, preseason is not for those guys. Even if they do play, it’s not for long and they don’t do anything special. Also, you run the risk of one of them getting injured like we saw when Julian Edelman tore his ACL against, funny enough, the Detroit Lions in 2017. The risk is not worth the reward and we get to see which of these guys battling for roster spots can make a name for themselves. If you focus on the storylines that I ran through in this article, it is possible to be very entertained watching this game.
Nonetheless, it is great to have New England Patriot football BACK.