In this game, I will be watching closely to see how Jeremy Trueblood performs for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He’s in a contract year after being given a lofty contract a few years ago after a great season. He hasn’t been close to great since then and was terrible last year. The right tackle also struggled in the Buccaneers latest preseason game, so he needs to be up to the task and hold down a starting job that might not be deserved at this point.
Rookie linebacker Lavonte David was a steal for the Bucs in the most recent draft, and it will be interesting to see how the former Nebraska standout fairs out against the Patriots tight ends. He recently praised Jeff Demps running ability, but I’m more concerned with how well he stops the pass than the run.
As for Demps, I will feel a sense of euphoria and happiness building up my spine before he takes his first kick-off. This guy is a burner, and I can’t wait to watch him play in a game wearing a Pats uniform (already have seen him light it up for the Florida Gators in college).
Dont’e Stallworth and Deion Branch have big games ahead, and Stallworth really needs to bounce back after Monday’s stinker against the Philadelphia Eagles. He caught just one of six balls thrown at him and did not get much separation against the Eagles. Branch played at a high level with 51 yards of receiving in that game, and he showed that route-running ability and consistency overcomes Stallworth’s advantage in speed and athleticism. Stallworth has some ground to cover now after initially being ahead of Branch, and he is on the outside looking in right now.
Ras-I Dowling quietly had a big game for the Pats against the Eagles, and he absolutely shut down Jeremy Maclin. He came at great value for the Pats in last year’s draft, but I want to see how he fairs out against a top wide receiver like Vincent Jackson who has great size. Dowling is viewed as a player who can hold down larger receivers, so all eyes will be fixed on how Dowling handles the new Bucs No. 1 wideout.
Viewed as a huge reach in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft, safety Tavon Wilson has proven to be anything but that so far. He didn’t receive as much action against the Eagles, but I came away very impressed with his debut against the New Orleans Saints. Not many rookie safeties can play up with Jimmy Graham, but Wilson did and showed off his good coverage skills. The Patriots are utilizing him in that key linebacker/safety hybrid role, and he is not disappointing. With Chung out, both he and fellow rookie Nate Ebner have another chance to impress (Ebner had a pick on Monday).
I don’t like how people are overreacting about Nate Solder’s play. Sure he still needs to improve his pass blocking, but how many second-year tackles don’t? I like his run blocking, and he is developing as a pass protector with each snap he takes. Besides, Trent Cole and Will Smith aren’t exactly the easiest match-ups to face in this league.
Running back Brandon Bolden has shown that he is the most powerful back on the Patriots roster- and quite clearly so- but his punt return gaffe against the Eagles did little to help his cause. The signing of Demps puts him on the roster bubble. I left him out of my recent 53-man roster projection, but he’s right on the bubble with defensive end Jeff Francis. Bolden has a big game ahead of him, and he needs to show more consistency. I don’t know if the Patriots want to keep five running backs, but I think they will if they don’t keep Spencer Larsen at fullback. Personally, I would keep Bolden and four other backs while leaving off a fullback. There is speculation that Bolden could play fullback for the Patriots, which is an interesting thought indeed.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.