Five Patriots to watch in Thursday's preseason opener
The New England Patriots' preseason gets underway on Saturday night as they take on the Green Bay Packers at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Tom Brady's status for tonight is still being determined, but regardless of whether or not he plays, Jimmy Garoppolo surely will. Most of the Patriots' starters won't see too much time on the field as it's the first game of the preseason, giving way to role players as they look to earn a roster spot. Here are five players to watch in the Patriots-Packers matchup.
All eyes will be on No. 10 at quarterback as he's the presumed starter for the first games of the regular season. He's had an up-and-down training camp thus far, but it'll be interesting to see how he handles the bright lights on a (somewhat) big stage. Even if he plays poorly, he'll still be the likely starter, so it's not about earning playing time -- it's about showing the coaches and fans what they have beyond Brady. Poise in the pocket and patience will be key for Garoppolo's success.
In a depleted secondary, 2015 second-round pick Jordan Richards is hoping to play a big role at safety. Devin McCourty is the starter at free safety with Patrick Chung the starter at strong safety, but Richards has displayed flexibility to play all over the field. He's a big safety who can play a safety-linebacker role as well, which is something to keep an eye on Thursday night. Belichick finds ways to get good players on the field, so it will be fun to see where he slots Richards tonight.
With LeGarrette Blount sidelined due to a sprained MCL, boom-or-bust running back Jonas Gray will see an increased role in the preseason. Blount is expected to be the No. 1 back in the regular season, but Gray showed promise a season ago before his role was significantly reduced. In just three starts last season, Gray scored five touchdowns, including four in one game. The Patriots will need him to stay healthy and effective in Blount's absence, with Thursday night being the first step.
The Patriots have sustained some injuries at wide receiver so far, which will give way to Josh Boyce on the outside. Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, and Aaron Dobson have missed time and aren't likely to see much, if any time tonight. Boyce played in just one game last season and didn't record a single catch, but on Thursday night he'll need to prove he's healthy and can make an impact in a deep wide receiver group. He's only been in the league for two years, but with so much depth at receiver, Boyce's roster spot isn't guaranteed just yet.
Tre' Jackson/Shaq Mason
The Patriots were left with a hole at guard when veteran Dan Connolly retired. His spot could be filled by two promising rookies, both of which were selected in the fourth round of the 2015 draft. Tre' Jackson and Shaq Mason are battling to take over Connolly's spot as they look to solidify the interior of the offensive line next to Bryan Stork. Both have played well in training camp, but their first preseason game against another team could prove to be different. These are two big men to keep your eye on Thursday.