We have FINALLY reached the return of NFL football as the preseason kicks off tonight when 10 teams play their first football of 2011. The Patriots are among them as they square off against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Don’t expect the starters to play too long for either side, likely a couple of series as typical opening preseason games go. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of things to see throughout the entire game. Here are the top 5 things I’ll be looking at, from the Patriots perspective of course:
1. What defensive fronts do the Patriots line up in? The Patriots have lined up predominantly in the 4-3 in training camp, and with all of the defensive linemen on the roster (21), we’re likely to see the 4-3 tonight. How effective will it be? What will it look like in a game situation? Of course, not all of the projected starters, like Albert Haynesworth, will suit up or play very long, but it bears watching throughout the night.
2. Competition on the defensive line. With 21 players on the roster for the defensive line, there’s obviously going to be cuts, and likely some of the recently-signed veterans will be among them. Everyone’s got to earn their spot on the roster, and this should be a lively competition. The younger guys, like Kyle Love, Kade Weston, and Myron Pryor, will be among those fighting for roster spots. There’s no way Bill Belichick keeps all veteran defensive linemen, so which young guys will emerge to be the defensive linemen of the future?
3. Brian Hoyer vs. Ryan Mallett. Both quarterbacks are likely to see plenty of playing time tonight after Brady leaves the game after a couple of series. Both have looked good in training camp. Which will come out on top as the #2 QB? Hoyer is the favorite, but don’t count Mallett out.
4. Is there a problem at safety? The Patriots recently brought in safety Dashon Goldson for a workout before he ended up re-signing with the 49ers. There were rumblings that Belichick is unhappy with the play of Brandon Meriweather, and he has been a notorious freelancer in the field and can whiff on a tackle with the best of them. Patrick Chung has impressed thus far and James Sanders hasn’t been able to stay on the practice field. Can Sergio Brown emerge? Is there a possible cut-down day trade in the future at this position? Lets’ see if Meriweather can respond.
5. Special teams. This is always and forever an area to watch in the preseason, especially on the Patriots. Bill Belichick puts a premium on special teams, so when you’re looking at who will stick and who won’t, focus on special teams. Who’s playing? Who’s making plays? Those players tend to get the nod when all other factors are equal.
TGIFS – Thank God It’s Football Season!