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5 things to watch in Patriots-Redskins preseason opener

Ryan Hannable
August 09, 2018 - 9:38 am

Even though it’s just the preseason, Thursday night will mark the first game since the Super Bowl LII loss for the Patriots.

Given the unusual and slow-paced training camp, it’s not clear how much playing time the starters will get, but without the benefit of joint practices, it seems likely they will get a good amount of playing time.

Even if they don’t, there are still a number of things to keep an eye on, including some positional battles playing out.

Here are five things to watch in the contest.

1. Does Tom Brady play? If so, how does he look?

It remains to be seen whether or not Brady takes the field. If recent history plays out, he may not as he hasn’t played in the preseason opener in three of the last four years. To counter that, Brady saw a good amount of reps in the walkthrough Wednesday, which could indicate he will get some snaps. If he does get on the field, the biggest thing will be how he looks throwing the ball, and is he on the same page as his receivers? After looking a little rusty the first few days of camp, he’s picked it up in the last couple of sessions. With not many familiar faces at receiver, it’s imperative the younger players and newcomers can get on the same page as their quarterback and be where he wants them.

2. New players in Patriots debuts

There are several players who will be wearing a Patriots uniform for the first time in a game. On the defensive line, Adrian Clayborn and Danny Shelton have been two of the best players on defense in training camp and it will be interesting to see if they can carry it over to a game. At wide receiver, Cordarrelle Patterson will likely see a lot of action. In practice he’s shown the ability to make an impact as a receiver and not just a returner, but practice is a lot different than a game. Offensive tackle Trent Brown has been a beast in camp and like Patterson, it will be fascinating to see if it carries over into games. Don't forget about first-round pick Isaiah Wynn. So far he’s just taken reps as a second-team left tackle and it will be interesting to see if that changes in games since that seems like a position that belongs to Brown. Another rookie to keep an eye on is Braxton Berrios. A strong preseason could allow him to sneak onto the first 53-man roster. As for newcomer Eric Decker, it’s hard to see him playing a lot since he just started practicing, but if he does play he’s another player to watch to see how he’s picking up the playbook and what kind of shape he’s in.

3. Cornerback rotation 

Besides No. 1 cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the rest of this position remains unclear. Eric Rowe is likely the No. 2, but then it really gets tricky. Jason McCourty, Cyrus Jones, Jonathan Jones, JC Jackson, Keion Crossen and Ryan Lewis are all players who have a chance of making the team. It could come down to going with a veteran in McCourty or youth in a player like Jackson or Lewis. With so many players competing for just a few spots, any edge a player can get is crucial. Keep an eye on who starts and who is out there in the fourth quarter with the rest of the third-stringers, as it could give a glimpse into how the Patriots feel about the position.

4. Punt returns

With Danny Amendola in Miami and Julian Edelman out for the first four games, the Patriots need someone to return punts. Cyrus Jones, Patrick Chung, Chris Hogan, Riley McCarron, Berrios and Rex Burkhead have all seen reps in practices, but what really matters is the games. At this point, even though he just returned to practice this week, it seems like it’s Jones’ job to lose. Since he just returned to practice it is unclear if Jones suits up. If he doesn’t, whoever gets the bulk of the reps should be next in line if Jones struggles when he does get into games.

5. Who is getting extensive special teams reps?

This may not seem significant, but with how much the Patriots value special teams it is. First off, keep an eye on the first teams of all four special teams units. If a player appears to be on the bubble but is playing on a top special teams unit, this may give him an edge over a player he’s competing against who is not. The same goes for a player who is on multiple special teams units. There’s also a punter competition so it will be interesting to see how Ryan Allen and Corey Bojorquez split reps and also what the situation calls for. Also, keep an eye on who is the holder on field goals and extra points. That could be telling to who has the edge.

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