Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

5 things to watch as Patriots take on Panthers in 3rd preseason game

Ryan Hannable
August 24, 2018 - 8:25 am

The regular season is fast approaching and still are a number of question marks on the Patriots’ roster, but some of them could be answered Friday night in the third preseason game against the Panthers in Carolina.

Given it is the so-called “dress rehearsal” for the regular season, we should have a better idea of where the positional battles stand as the starters typically play at least a half. Friday should be the closest thing to the regular season in the preseason, so we should know a lot more about the team and how things might look come the regular season.

Here are five things to watch.

What does the wide receiver position look like?

After the release of Kenny Britt, it seems like the final roster spot at the positon will come down to Eric Decker, Riley McCarron, Braxton Berrios, Devin Lucien or Paul Turner. Whoever gets the most reps with Tom Brady and the first team offense could be a good indication of who will make the team. It will also be worth watching how Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson look. Going into the season, the wide receiver position has some concerns, especially without Julian Edelman the first four weeks, but if Dorsett and Patterson show they can contribute those concerns should somewhat go away.

Punt return duties 

We’ve yet to see Cyrus Jones (started summer on PUP) this preseason, but that should change Friday night. As of now, he seems to be the leader in the clubhouse for primary punt return duties, but he will need to show he can handle it. Jones has struggled the last two seasons and has had issues with fumbling. If he can show he’s put those struggles behind him, he should be the primary punt returner at least for the first four weeks without Edelman. But if not, his roster spot could be in question and could open a spot for someone else.

Does defense continue to build?

After struggling against the Redskins in Week 1 of the preseason, the Patriots defense stepped up last Thursday against the Eagles and had a much better showing. Friday, it hopes to ride the momentum and have another strong performance. It will likely be noted the defense hit its low point last year in Week 4 following the loss at home the Panthers and will look to show it is in a much better place than just under a year ago. Playing well against Cam Newton and the Panthers offense should give the unit confidence for Week 1 of the regular season against another mobile quarterback, Deshaun Watson and the Texans.

Bubble players

The Patriots have a few players on the bubble and having strong performances Friday could go a long way in terms of them making the team. At running back, Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee seem to be battling for the final spot, and then at safety Jordan Richards and Eddie Pleasant could be competing for one spot. It will also be worth watching who starts at middle linebacker, Elandon Roberts or rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley, who has been very impressive thus far. Also, this is the first game since rookie offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn suffered a reported season-ending Achilles injury, so who is getting extensive time on the offensive line? This could be a sign as to who the team plans on filling Wynn’s spot on the active roster.

Who is in the game late in the fourth quarter?

Keep an eye on who is in the game during the fourth quarter when the majority of the locks for the team are done for the night. Playing deep into the game probably is not a good sign, so it should be noted if a player on the bubble is still playing late in the contest. Notice when players leave the game, as if they depart with the starters it is a good sign. But if not, there’s some work left to do.

Related: Has Alex Guerrero's access been changed?