While most team’s 53-man picture tends to get clearer as the preseason goes on, you could argue the Patriots is even foggier now than it was before their first preseason game against the Lions. It doesn’t help that the day before their second preseason matchup the league announced they are reinstating wide receiver Josh Gordon. While you can expect most Patriots-related storylines the next few days to revolve around Gordon’s return, here are some to keep an eye on specifically in tonight’s game…
1Who Is Catching Passes?
It’s only August 17th, yet the injury bug is in mid-season form when it comes to the Patriots wide receivers. N’Keal Harry was sent home early due to a number of physical issues that are being described as minor. The darling of OTAs, Maurice Harris’ stock has steeply fallen the last week or so, following a pair of drops against Detroit and another bad one after getting open on a flea flicker during practice. Tonight would have been a huge chance to right the ship, but according to NBCSB’s Tom Curran, it could ‘be a while’ until we see him again due to a lower leg injury. Phillip Dorsett is also dealing with a hand injury.
While this limits who the Patriots can use at receiver going forward in the preseason, it is an excellent chance for some of those back end of the roster guys to prove themselves. Mainly, keep an eye on Braxton Berrios. With Josh Gordon now back in the mix, his chances at a roster spot get even smaller, but he still adds tremendous value as a returner and has upside as a potential replacement for Edelman when the time comes. He has a huge opportunity tonight to prove he belongs.
The stars of preseason week one will look to follow up their impressive performance against a more defensive-minded team tonight. With Tom Brady expected to play (exactly how much, we’ll see), somebody will have to lose snaps. Will it be Hoyer, the long-time trusted backup who could perhaps raise his stock enough to be traded to a team with a chance to start? Or will it be the rookie Stidham, who had a number of fans hopping on his bandwagon after his impressive performance last week?
3Last Offensive Line Question
With Isaiah Wynn now clearly on track to be the Patriots starting left tackle week one, a major questions can be crossed off the Patriots offseason checklist. However, one important offensive line related question still remains…who will be the Patriots third tackle? An often overlooked yet crucial role, it has been held down well by LaAdrian Waddle for the last four years. He’s no longer in Foxboro, and the Patriots need a strong insurance plan with Wynn essentially being a rookie. Can Dan Skipper elevate his play in the next few weeks to win the job? Or will the Patriots tendency of drafting versatile linemen pay off yet again with somebody like Ted Karras or Hjalte Froholdt prove they can hold things down on the edge?
4Danny Shelton’s Second Act
Six months ago, most Patriots observers viewed Danny Shelton as an expiring contract experiment that hadn’t worked out. He only started one game for the Pats in 2018, and was a healthy scratch for three. After New England declined his fifth-year option, Shelton sat in free agency for about a month before returning to Foxboro on a team-friendly deal. The former 12th overall pick has been making the most of this second chance, highlighted by an impressive performance in the preseason opener. Can he continue this solid stretch and give the Patriots another interior option next to Mike Pennel? Again a team that will probably be run-heavy in the Titans, he’ll have a good chance to prove his second act in New England should continue.
Consider this a continuation of the punter battle discussion from last week. While Ryan Allen and Jake Bailey split reps, it was Allen holding for Stephen Gostkowski field goals, an indication that he is still the leader for the job. However, during practice this week it was the rookie Bailey holding, perhaps hinting at a shift in the Patriots depth chart at the position. Will those reps carry over into the game tonight? If Bailey is on the field goal unit against Tennessee and gets at least 50% of the punting reps, I’d say Ryan Allen’s job is in real trouble. (Watch Belichick split the holding reps evenly and really throw a wrench in things.)
If you’re looking for more in tonight’s Patriots-Titans matchup, check out Evan Lazar’s ‘What To Watch For’ below:
Have thoughts on any of the storylines listed above, or feel like something major was left out? Let me know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth. And of course, for full coverage of the game and all things Patriots, follow @PatriotsCLNS on Twitter and subscribe to the CLNSMedia YouTube page.