The New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have already gotten good looks at the teams they will each be fielding tonight after a few joint practice sessions, and these two teams are getting to know each other quite well. The Pats and Bucs already squared off last year in the preseason, and today’s preseason battle will prelude and early regular season showdown between head coaching friends Bill Belichick and Greg Schiano.
New England Patriots draft pick, receiver Aaron Dobson (17) participates in drills during training camp at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Today’s game kicks off at 8:00 p.m. ET in front of an estimated crowd of 68,756, and this is going to be a nationally televised preseason game on FOX, which is great news. Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston will be calling the game, and Tony Siragusa (he was such a great player) will be on the sidelines. For those of you who will unfortunately be in a car during the game, you can tune in to 98.5 FM, The Sports Hub, as always.
The New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers are two teams that are very familiar with each other, and this game is going to be laced with Rutgers alumns on both sides of the football. But the Rutgers products I am most interested in watching are the guys who could be getting time in the slot against Vincent Jackson, who is one of the game’s elite receivers and a lopsided mismatch just waiting to happen. Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan have similar skill-sets in the slot, but both could be in for some rough snaps against Jackson, as Jackson’s skill-set creates a huge mismatch against those guys. I mean, do you really want a big receiver like Jackson on a small slot corner like Arrington? This could be a preview for the Buffalo Bills, because they are also intent on using Stevie Johnson in the slot to get those favorable matchups.
Below are some more things I’ll be watching:
1. R.J. Mattes and Brice Schwab are two camp body backup offensive linemen who really impressed me, and the fact that Tyronne Green is now on the IR and Kevin Haslam was released yesterday means that these two OLs will only be getting more snaps tomorrow. Mattes in particular is intriguing, as he is a UDFA tackle from N.C. State who had an impressive college career.
2. The competition at defensive tackle is fierce, and the three guys vying for the fourth roster spot at DT are Joe Vellano, Marcus Forston, and Cory Grissom. Vellano had a solid training camp, but where he really made his mark was against the Philadelphia Eagles will an absolutely incredible game. While Vellano did put some pressure on the passer, he really did his work against the run. Meanwhile, Marcus Forston has all the natural talent in the world, but he never showed it with the Miami Hurricanes in college and was thus undrafted. Forston spent time on the squad last year, and he looks poised to steal a roster spot after a good camp (Forston has also been spending a lot of time with Vince Wilfork). As for Cory Grissom, the former USF star known as “Pork Chop” offers nothing as a pass rusher, but he was an excellent run-stopper at USF and should have been drafted. I want to see more of him, because he hasn’t impressed thus far.
3. This goes with what I said above about Ryan and Arrington, but it’s taking a different look at how to handle a receiver like Vincent Jackson. One of the reasons why we are all so frustrated with Ras-I Dowling‘s constant injuries is because he is actually a really talented CB (his draft slot shows it). Beyond that, he brings something else to the table, because he is a big corner blessed with terrific length and has the ability to play in the slot and on the outside. You thinking what I’m thinking? Oh yeah, let’s throw Dowling at Jackson and see what happens, because it could end up being good. That is, of course, assuming Dowling is even healthy enough to play.
4. Ryan Mallett needs to step it up, because he needs to prove to the entire NFL that he has the ability to be a starting quarterback. Mallett is now in third year of his career, and it’s time for him to show to potential trade suitors that the Patriots have indeed developed a future quality starter behind Tom Brady. In the first preseason game, Mallett’s numbers were worse than how he actually played, but he definitely didn’t impress. His numbers were terrible, but Mallett had a subpar day overall.
5. Aaron Dobson is a receiver with a lot of upside and should be the “X” that this team is looking for, and he had a really good training camp and made an impression on the Eagles cornerbacks during their joint practices. But in a game situation against the Eagles, Dobson had just two catches on eight targets with one of those incompletions being a bad drop on Dobson (he struggled with drops in OTAs and minicamp). Although Dobson had some bad quarterbacking that hurt him, it still isn’t an excuse.
6. I still highly doubt he gets cut, but Jake Ballard isn’t a lock to make the roster due to his knee injury. I want to see how healthy he is going forward, and I want to see if he can successfully block in this game. If he can prove to be at least as good of a blocker as Daniel Fells is, then he will easily make the roster over Fells, especially when you look at the difference in their salaries.
7. Zoltan Mesko vs. Ryan Allen is a battle between two punters who could easily be starting punters in this league. Allen has a better contract (more years, less money) on his side and has a better leg. But Mesko is proven, gets better hangtime, and might have better accuracy than Allen (the jury is still out on that, but I’ll give that to Mesko). I want Mesko to win and Allen to make the practice squad as insurance (Mesko has one year left), but this is definitely a fluid competition.