The New England Patriots will face the Detroit Lions for Week 3 of the preseason today at 7:30 p.m. ET in Detroit, Michigan, and this game should feature a lot more playing time from the starters. We’ll see whether or not Danny Amendola is one of them, but I hope the Patriots sit him out today as a precaution. The most important reason in favor of sitting him out is the fact that the rookie receivers need the snaps more, and we already know what we have in Amendola. Below are some notes on things to watch for tonight.
1. Kenbrell Thompkins vs. Aaron Dobson
Aaron Dobson has been getting a lot of deep passes in the preseason, but he only caught one and that was last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (23-yard pass from Ryan Mallett). If Dobson wants to start in two-wide sets this season, he is going to need to continue to improve in preseason games. Tonight should be a golden opportunity for Dobson, because what I got out of one of Bill Belichick’s press conferences is that the Patriots are rotating the rookie receivers with each game as far as usage goes. Thus, it should be Dobson’s “turn” to receive many snaps with Tom Brady, and he needs to bring his good stuff. Dobson has a lot of upside and had a great training camp, but I still think he could improve more even after doing better in Week 2 than Week 1. Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson are locked into a position battle at receiver for the “X” job in two-wide sets, and Thompkins is clearly winning. It might be a stretch, but it is possible that Dobson doesn’t even move to the “X” in three-wide sets and instead sits on the bench while Julian Edelman operates as the “Z” receiver. That situation will only happen if Dobson does very poorly and shows too little development, which is something that I don’t anticipate happening.
2. Defensive Tackles
Armond Armstead won’t be playing today with that infection, and it seems more likely that he’ll end up on the PUP list with each and every passing week. The backup defensive tackles are all inexperienced, but all three of the players competing for a roster spot looked excellent against the Buccaneers. Cory Grissom should have been drafted out of USF, and he is a steal of a UDFA who probably won’t make it to the practice squad if waived. Joe Vellano has been the best performer in the preseason, and the UDFA DT makes up for his lack of athleticism through a great motor. The most talented of the three might be Marcus Forston, who was a five-star recruit out of high school but never showed up for the Miami Hurricanes in college. Forston has looked extremely disruptive this preseason, and he has the best chance of making the roster if only one of those DTs does.
Although I am in favor of keeping both running backs on the roster, I know that the Patriots might want to add depth at positions where depth is more important to this roster. Still, Bolden and Blount are easily two of the most talented players on the roster bubble, and each of them plays better with each contest. These two backs are making eachother better as a result of the competition, and last week Brandon Bolden shined after Blount’s big day in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles.
4. Backup quarterbacks
The New England Patriots might be capitalizing on a shrewd tactic that other teams might want to try out more often, and that’s drafting a young quarterback with the intent of developing them as a top backup and then trading them for a higher pick than their draft value. This is seemingly what the Patriots are doing with Ryan Mallett, and he did a good job in Week 2 after a shaky start. Mallett sometimes feels that he is too strong for his own good, and he needs to find the golden mean with his arm strength. The Arkansas product is already wary of overshooting his target, but equally bad is a new habit of his which is not putting enough on intermediate throws for fear of overshooting his target. As for Tim Tebow, he has to improve otherwise I don’t see him making the roster. Read here for an explanation why.
5. Josh Boyce
Josh Boyce projects as a receiver who can stretch the slot, and I fully expect him to get a good dose of snaps in the slot if Danny Amendola is indeed out today. Boyce hasn’t played too much this preseason, and he’s been the slowest to develop of the rookie receivers despite his high intelligence evidenced by his Wonderlic score. I am a huge fan of Boyce due to his speed and route-running skills, but he hasn’t developed a good enough rapport with Tom Brady yet. Boyce was solid in training camp, but it’s time for him to get more snaps and make good on them in a preseason game.
My eyes will also be focused in on another former Razorbacks star in defensive end Jake Bequette, who still looks as raw as ever. I thought he played very poorly against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but I also feel like he’s been a better pass rusher than Michael Buchanan. That’s not really saying much, though, since Bequette has been in the league for one more year than Buchanan and was also drafted a few rounds higher. I still think Bequette makes the roster, but that could easily change. Most people believe that Bequette has a better shot than Buchanan at passing through waivers to the practice squad, which doesn’t really help his case.