Five Things to Watch for in Patriots Third Preseason Game.

Jeff Kane 

Follow Jeff on Twitter @BostonFatGuy

The New England Patriots will face off against the Carolina Panthers in the all important third preseason game Friday night.  By now you have heard that the third game of the preseason is the “dress rehearsal” game for the regular season.  The starters on both offense and defense usually play into the third quarter, and this year figures to be no different.   Here are five things to watch for Friday night.

  1. Offensive Line

In the first two preseason games the Pats offensive line has been up and down.  Against the Packers the line allowed seven sacks in the passing game.  The pass blocking rebounded against the Saints in week two, however there was no room for the Patriots to gain anything on the ground.

Last season when Bryan Stork was inserted into the line up and flanked by Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell the line solidified itself and was a strong unit throughout the remainder of the season. Wendell returned from the physically unable to perform list earlier this week. It will be something to watch if he slides into one of the guard spots, or plays center with Stork out, with rookies Shaq Mason and Tré Jackson continuing their first team reps at guard.  Once Stork returns we will most likely see Wendell at left guard with Jackson playing right guard.  In this scenario, Mason can work his way slowly into his pro career this season as a back up swing guard and continue to develop his pass blocking skill. We could also see another strong showing from rookie David Andrews, who has started the first two games at center. Look for a rebound game from starting tackle Nate Solder as he struggled to set an edge on run plays to begin his first preseason game last week.  Play close attention as well to the work that back up tackles Marcus Cannon and Cameron Fleming receive.  Both Cannon and Fleming have had solid games in the past, but have struggled halfway through the exhibition games.

2. Right Cornerback 

Malcolm Butler has been a fixture on the left side since the first week of camp and has looked every bit the part of an up and coming solid corner. The question becomes who will start opposite of him come week one of the regular season.

Last week Devin McCourty started at right corner and Patriots Nation was reminded exactly why he was moved to safety.  Logan Ryan, the third year cornerback out of Rutgers has look very much out of place this preseason and has regressed since playing well his rookie season. Bradley Fletcher was playing deep into the fourth quarter last week, hardly a confidence boost for the veteran.  Robert McClain could also see time at the second corner, however he looks to be setting himself up to take over Kyle Arrington’s Nickleback role. Seventh round pick, and preseason game one starter Darryl Roberts most likely will be ending the season on the injured reserve, after hurting his wrist against the Packers. Which is too bad as he looked to have a step to begin the season.

Enter veteran Tarell Brown, Brown has had success in the league and signed with the Patriots earlier this off-season. He saw game action last week and his foot injury seems to be coming along fine. Brown is a solid veteran who if healthy can bolster the secondary. Look for Brown to Start and get work in working with his fellow secondary members as they work towards the season opener.

3. Reggie Wayne

How much does the former Colt have left in the tank?  Wayne was signed earlier this week and has said “I haven’t crammed this much since college” Which may be a good thing. The Patriots have brought in veteran wide receivers in the past who have not made the grade. From Donald Hayes to Chad Ocho Cinco, something happens to veterans who enter the Patriots offensive system.

Wayne may not be the same Reggie that he was a few years back. He may never have even been signed by the Pats, if not for the season ending to Brandon Gibson and Brian Tyms.  I do feel he could stick with the team, as he is a hard worker, who runs good routes.  Wayne will not be asked to be the first option in New England which is a good thing. Wayne will be looked upon this season, provided he makes the team, as a veteran presence that has dependable hands and a great resume.  Wayne’s tutelage has earned T.Y. Hilton and Pierre Garçon big money contracts, perhaps he can help develop third year player Aaron Dobson.  If Wayne plays this week expect him to get reps with the first team unit, instantly taking over for the injured Brandon Gibson, while getting a crash course on what it means to be a Patriot.

4. Third Down Back

Week one it was the James White show, as the fourth round pick from last year, did his best Shane Vereen impression dodging and weaving his way through would be tacklers.  Against the
Saints its was Dion Lewis making a case for the role of the Patriots versatile pass catching and blocking back. Both have been very impressive in early action.  Lewis seems to be a more polished blocker, however White is a fourth round pick who is looking to take a similar career path as the departed Vereen.  Travaris Cadet who returned to practice earlier this week, should be given every opportunity to compete with the other two ball carriers.  When camp first kicked off Cadet looked very good in catching the ball. The key to who wins the battle will be, who can protect the passer the best and who can pick up the slack in a long line of solid third down backs.

5. Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo

With this game being a dress rehearsal for the regular season opener, we may get a look inside how the Patriots feel the Tom Brady saga is going to end.  Bill Belichick is the ultimate chess player, in the game of football he is always ahead of his competition. Garoppolo has made strides from the first to second week. It would be hard for Brady to play into the third quarter if the Patriots believe that Jimmy G will be the starting quarterback week one versus the Pittsburgh Steelers.  If Brady does play deep into the game, I believe that it will tip the Patriots hand on how they feel the court ruling will come down with Tom.  The safe bet for the Patriots and something that is very logical, is an old Bill Belichick trick. Belichick may start Brady, and then mid series bring in Jimmy to simulate an in game situation.  It will be a look inside of the Patriots coaching staff minds, if both quarterbacks get meaningful reps throughout the game. I would expect both players to get a few series each with the ones.

For  more great New England sports news Follow @ESPNNH

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