The Patriots final preseason contest of the year is finally upon us. Tonight the Patriots will face off with the New York Giants in each squad’s final tune-up before the regular season commences. This game is geared more towards the guys fighting for a roster spot rather than the known starters, but I think that we will still get to see the top guys play for at the bare minimum, one series. The rest of the time will be devoted towards giving the players at the bottom of the totem pole a chance to prove that they belong on the Patriots final 53 man roster.
Here are five things that I will be watching closely throughout tonight’s game.
1. Tim Tebow
All eyes will be on Tebow tonight simply because he is the main guy that everybody wants to know if Bill will cut or not. Based on his preseason performances, I would say Belichick should have dumped him days ago, but somehow he survived the 75 man cut. Perhaps Tebow practices very well and the Pats want to keep him around as a third quarterback behind Brady and Mallett. No matter what happens, Tebow will be getting a lot of reps tonight and it is always an adventure with him running this offense.
2. Leon Washington
One of the most intriguing positional battles that has emerged over the course of the preseason has been at the running back position. First it was a question of whether LeGarrette Blount would make the team. Then the focus turned to Brandon Bolden, and now all eyes are on kick return specialist Leon Washington. It seems that he has fallen down the depth chart not only among the running backs, but as a kick returner. Last week against Detroit, it was Blount and Matthew Slater returning kicks instead of Washington. Now this may have just been some experimental work by the coaching staff, but it also may have been the results (or lack thereof) of Washington’s kick return progress this offseason. He just hasn’t seemed like his usual explosive self, and when you combine that with the fact that he contributes very little on the offensive end, he may end up without a job in New England.
3. Starters Playing Time
This is always a big story-line in any preseason matchup. There is a certain balance that the coaches have to work out so that their players get the needed reps to knock off some rust from the offseason, but at the same time they can’t subject their stars to injury. It is always interesting to see how Belichick uses his guys, and we will see tonight if he decides to mix it up on the league once again.
4. Defensive Tackle
Perhaps the biggest issue with this Patriots roster heading into the regular season is the depth they have at defensive tackle. It has been well documented that behind Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly the Pats do not have many guys to deploy to give those two a breather and still maintain a solid defensive prowess on the inside. Rookie Joe Vellano did have an impressive outing against the Lions last week, and he may be another “diamond in the rough” find for New England. However they still need to improve in this area, and Vellano will be a guy to watch, as well as second year man Marcus Forston. I can’t bear to watch Marcus Benard play again on the inside, and get utterly dominated so Vellano and Forston have to step up to spare me the pain…
5. Safety Position
When the Patriots went out and signed free agent Adrian Wilson this offseason, I was convinced that he would be the guy to ultimately put this Patriots defense over the top. I thought that his experience, and physicality in the back end would really help improve the secondary, and possibly vault this team to a championship. However this preseason has not brought forth those results. Wilson has seemingly slipped down the depth chart in favor of Steve Gregory, and Wilson found himself playing well past any other projected starter did, in the Patriots previous preseason contest. That is not a good sign for him, and he will have to step it up tonight. As for the rest of the safeties, the one guy I will be watching very closely is rookie Duron Harmon. He has had an up and down preseason. At some points he looks like a seasoned veteran and then at others he looks like the rookie that he is. But he has some promise, and seeing him improve may get him a solid chunk of playing time in the regular season. Steve Gregory has put forth a very “Steve Gregory-like” preseason. He has missed some tackles as well as some coverages, but at the same time he hasn’t been jump out of your seat horrible. That is not the way the Pats would have liked one of their starting safeties to look like heading into the season opener, but that may end up happening.