As fans across the NFL landscape rejoice that the first real taste of football returns, NFL coaches and players alike prepare for their first preseason games of the season. This, of course, comes with the exception of both the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Ravens, the participants of the 2018 Hall of Fame Game.

The preseason is always a conflicting time for fans, however. The worry of the injury bug biting a star player affects every fan. However, seeing football for the first time in months is quite exciting as well. Essentially, the preseason serves as a time for fans and coaches alike to examine the back end of their rosters.

For New England Patriot fans, this preseason seems to carry a different feeling to it than those of years past. While stars such as Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski will see little to no action, there are still plenty of reasons for Patriot fans to tune into tonight’s game.

Playing Time for Star Players

As previously mentioned, most of the star players in New England will see limited, if any, action tonight. While this is consistent with the normal preseason workload almost every team follows, it is not always the most attractive tendency for the fans at home.

The focus here lies on both Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. Both players are not expected to play tonight, as their workload during yesterday’s training camp session was greater than they had seen in a while.

While there is still room to debate on whether either star will play tonight, the likely answer would be a simple “no”. Patriots’ fans saw an up-close-and-personal look with the preseason injury bug last season, as star receiver Julian Edelman went down with a torn ACL in only the third week of the preseason.

While it may mean watching Brian Hoyer and Danny Etling throw the pigskin for four quarters, Patriot fans should take solace knowing their star quarterback will avoid injury for the time being.

Rookie Performances

The Patriots, for the first time in a few years, have some amazing talent coming in the form of rookies. First-round pick Sony Michel, after suffering a minor knee injury during training camp, is not expected to play in the preseason. While this injury is not ideal, Michel’s injury will not cost him much, if any, of the regular season. That is something all Patriot fans should be okay with.

Michel’s former Georgia teammate Isaiah Wynn, however, is expected to receive extended reps during tonight’s game. Wynn is expected to compete with both Trent Brown and Joe Thuney for a starting position on the left side of New England’s offensive line. Essentially, the preseason could be his moment to leap either Brown or Thuney on the depth chart and never look back.

There are plenty of remaining rookies to keep an eye on. Rookies Duke Dawson, Ja’Whaun Bentley, and Christian Sam headline the backend of a rookie class that has flashed. Dawson, primarily manning the slot, has starred. Meanwhile, Bentley has proved to be more than the pure run stopper he was labeled as. Sam, who has earned the praise of the coaching staff, will see plenty of preseason playing time.

Positional Competitions

As previously foreshadowed to, the Patriots have plenty of roster competition to sort through in the coming weeks.

Offense

On offense, nearly every position has a battle brewing. The aforementioned Michel and Wynn will enter the preseason among crowded positions. Michel’s presence will likely edge out either Jeremy Hill or Mike Gillislee. Meanwhile, Wynn is not so much playing for a roster spot, but a starting spot.

Meanwhile, the debate over who should backup Brady seems nearly resolved in Hoyer’s favor. This is barring a late push from Danny Etling, however. The same can be said for the Dwayne Allen/Jacob Hollister competition behind Gronkowski. With Hollister showing immense improvement throughout the offseason, he is the best bet to beat out Allen.

The receiver competition, which many assumed was solved by the release of both Jordan Matthews and Malcolm Mitchell, was only intensified. The addition of Eric Decker, coupled with an already secure position group, will mix for plenty of competition. Chris Hogan, Cordarrelle Patterson, and the suspended Julian Edelman are locks to make the roster. High-quality performances will be imperative to players such as Braxton Berrios, Riley McCarron, and Eric Decker.

Defense

Defensively, the true battle comes from the cornerback position. With Stephon Gilmore, Jason McCourty, and Duke Dawson as locks, plenty of competition are coming behind them. Veteran Eric Rowe has received first-team reps during training camp. However, young-gun Ryan Lewis and undrafted corner J.C. Jackson have also seen time with the top unit. All three players offer the Patriots depth options on the outside, however, not all may make the final roster. With Jonathan Jones and rookie Keion Crossen still looming, it is unclear who will make the final cut.

Last Word On the Patriots First Preseason Game

All in all, the initial week of the NFL preseason is full of backups, rookies, and disappointing veterans. However, New England fans have plenty of reasons to watch the Patriots’’ preseason games with interest. With roster competition raging, rookies anxious to perform, and Danny Etling waiting to make all fans more appreciative of Brian Hoyer, tonight’s game will be one to watch. Even for the preseason.


View the original article on Last Word On Pro Football: What to Watch for in the New England Patriots’ First Preseason Game