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Tue., Mar. 31, 2015 12:00 AM to 11:55 AM EDT
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Panthers Six-Pack: Charting the depth
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At long last, the “all-important” third preseason game. Finally a chance to see what the 2014 Patriots will look like. After a month of practices and brief cameos, we’ll get a chance to see the real thing out on the Gillette Stadium field tonight.
OK, not so much. It’s still just the preseason, and even though Tom Brady and the rest of his mates are expected to get some extended time against the Carolina Panthers, not much can be determined anytime the games don’t count. After all, it was just last year when the Patriots were decimated, 40-9, in the third preseason game in Detroit, and that didn’t seem to affect New England much during its 12-4 season.
But even though we’re still about three weeks away from the real thing, there are some players and developments worth watching tonight and we’ll highlight them here in our six-pack:
2. Guard-ians at the Gate – The same sorting out process appears to be ongoing on the offensive line, particularly along the interior. Dan Connolly started at center in both games and continues to work more in the middle than at right guard. Jordan Devey, who spent last season on the practice squad, and Josh Kline have gotten lots of reps with the starters as well. Ryan Wendell, last year’s starter, has come off the bench so far this summer. Sebastian Vollmer also missed the entire week of practice, so expect Marcus Cannon to man the right tackle spot. But the intrigue is in the middle, where some veterans could be playing for jobs.
4. Backing up Brady – Speaking of the quarterback, it wouldn’t be a preseason game if we weren’t discussing Brady’s backups. Jimmy Garoppolo was first out of the pen against the Eagles after Ryan Mallett got the start in the opener. With Brady potentially playing into the third quarter against the Panthers, there doesn’t figure to be much time left over for both backups to get work. If Garoppolo replaces Brady and continues his impressive work, perhaps Belichick will look to move on from Mallett and save a roster spot. Mallett could also have something to say about that if he follows up on his terrific performance against Philadelphia.
6. Toting the Rock – Last week offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels got lots of carries for all of his backs against a small Eagles front seven. This week it will be tougher to get that many carries against Carolina, so it’s worth monitoring how the carries are divided. Stevan Ridley fumbled against the Eagles but he remains the team’s best option in terms of a pure ball carrier. Rookie James White is more in the Shane Vereen mold as guy capable of getting carries but better suited as receivers. Brandon Bolden and Jonas Gray both made plays against Philly and could be fighting for a roster spot. If either gets a chance with Brady in the game it could foreshadow how Belichick is envisioning the back end of the running back depth chart.