As the New England Patriots get set to take on the Washington Redskins tonight, I want to give a few final thoughts on what to watch for in their preseason opener. I have already discussed the five players I will be watching yesterday, which can be read here. (It should be noted that my final choice, D.J. Williams, will not be playing tonight due to injury).
With Williams out, rookie tight end Justin Jones will be thrust into a much bigger role, as he, along with Asa Watson, will be the only tight ends available for New England. Jones is absolutely huge, standing at 6’8, and weighing close to 280 pounds, and has a good amount of raw potential. He may not make an impact this year in Foxboro, but keep an eye out for him, to see if he can make a push towards a final roster spot. In addition to this, one of, if not the biggest storyline to monitor tonight is how backup quarterback Ryan Mallett takes advantage of this rare playing time. Mallett never gets to show off his talents during the regular season (he can thank Tom Brady for that), so this is his time to shine.
Mallett is an interesting player. He probably has a better arm than 90% of the NFL, but just doesn’t seem to have everything else. From what I have seen in the past, he is too inconsistent with his accuracy, and can make some questionable decisions at times. If he ever wants to solidify a starting job in this league, he must get more consistent, and confidently lead his offense. Know exactly what to do with a certain look, and execute.
So, essentially become Tom Brady. (Just kidding).
The Redskins have a bad secondary. Just awful. So this is the opportune time for Mallett to put on a show. He will be receiving a ton of reps tonight, and will have a decent crop of weapons surrounding him. If he slips up against Washington, that only pushes his chances of becoming a starter further down the road. The time is now for Mallett. Will he step up?
The next big thing I will looking at, is the interior of the offensive line. Easily the biggest question mark of this team, how will this group look in their first game-action of the year? Bryan Stork is sidelined with an injury, so most of the playing time will be given to the likes of Josh Kline, and Jon Halapio. Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly will certainly have some snaps of their own, but Kline and Halapio are the younger, less experienced players, so they will undoubtedly be on the field longer.
I will not only be watching to see how the development of the younger guys is coming along, but also how Wendell and Connolly perform. Both of these guys had mediocre 2013 campaigns, and it will take a solid preseason for them to keep their starting roles. If not, Kline and Halapio could potentially climb over them with strong performances. Solidifying the interior of the offensive line is crucial to New England’s success, because if they can’t give Tom Brady the necessary time to operate, their whole offense will collapse. This is why it is so important for Kline, Wendell, Connolly, and Halapio to prove they have what it tonight, and throughout this entire preseason.
And finally, as Mike Reiss so eloquently states, who will emerge as the top backup linebacker? The Patriots’ starting trio will be one of the best starting groups in the league. There is no denying that. Jerod Mayo, Jamie Collins, and Dont’a Hightower are all extremely talented, and will wreak havoc all season long. But the depth behind them is not nearly as solid, which is why Steve Beauharnais, James Anderson, and Darius Fleming will all be thrust into the spotlight this preseason.
Injuries are a big part of the NFL, so if one of the starters goes down, Bill Belichick must be confident in who replaces him. And it will either be Andrson, Fleming, or Beauharnais. We will see who emerges from that group over the next few weeks.
Tags: New England Patriots