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10 to Watch: Patriots making a roster push, carving out roles

Here are some key Patriots players to watch as the take on the Green Bay Packers in the second preseason game of the summer.

PS2-2023-ThingsToWatchPDC

After two productive joint practices, the Patriots and Packers will meet on Saturday night in each team's second preseason contest of the summer.

The former Super Bowl 31 combatants got after it earlier this week on the practice fields, running dozens of reps in all kinds of situations, including full field, red zone, two-minute drills and everything in between. While Wednesday's session saw the Packers carry a slight edge in play, powered by a handful of big plays down the field, the Patriots struck back on Thursday and turned in one of their best practice performances of recent memory.

Offensively, Mac Jones was dealing, throwing multiple touchdown passes throughout the practice, while the defense was highlighted by strong coverage and situational play, getting stops on multiple third downs.

Now, those situations will fade into the randomness of a preseason game, where the Patriots will decide who needs to play and who needs to rest after seeing so much action in the joints.

Using 2022's preseason participation as a guide, here are 10 Patriots to watch in the game.

Mac Jones

Thursday's practice was arguably the best of Mac Jones' young career and while it's unlikely that he gets extensive playtime on Saturday night, it wouldn't be surprising to see him get a couple of drives of live action to get a full feel within a live pocket. After a clunky final period on Wednesday and catching an earful from Bill Belichick, things really seemed to click for Mac, highlighted by an end-of-practice 40-yard dime to DeVante Parker that sent the Patriots sideline into celebration. The question is how to keep the momentum going for Mac, something the coaches will weigh before deciding whether to let him play vs. the Packers or save him for next week's joint sessions with the Titans.

Juju Smith-Schuster

After light participation in the spring, Juju has been a consistent fixture during training camp and made his fair share of catches over the two days of joints. Like Mac, there's no guarantee that Juju plays in this one, so perhaps it's just wishful thinking, as Smith-Schuster's size and tackle-breaking ability are traits that don't truly come to light until the action is live. He's an imposing presence in the slot and one that will be utilized as a matchup piece in Bill O'Brien's offense.

Malik Cunningham

Okay, now we're getting into the guys that will almost certainly play and play a lot, and Cunningham is atop that list where he can be expected to play both receiver and quarterback. Since his solid touchdown drive that capped off the Texans preseason loss, Cunningham has continued to see quarterback reps, including a handful in the first day against the Packers. Is he a gadget piece who will spell Mac Jones at times to throw a new look at the defense? Or are the Patriots just having some fun as they get their defense ready for Jalen Hurts' mobility. Either way, Cunningham has brought a fun spark to the offense and should be an entertaining watch against the Packers.

Marte Mapu

Mapu shed his red jersey for Wednesday's practice for the first time this summer and was in the middle of the action over the two days in Green Bay. He delivered a hard hit on rookie Tucker Kraft on Thursday, showing no hesitation to resume driving his shoulder into ball carriers like he did consistently at Sacramento State. Mapu has shown his versatility over the course of camp, but now we'll get a better sense of how and where he stacks up in a game setting.

Isaiah Bolden

The rookie cornerback certainly looks the part of an NFL corner, his length and speed jump off the field, and in recent days he's been showing up more and more around the ball. With Jonathan Jones missing time due to injury, Bolden's reps have seen a spike and combined with his kickoff return ability, he's making a roster push. Fellow rookie corner Ameer Speed has similar traits and should see plenty of action as well. With injuries and uncertainty at the cornerback spot, the team could use strong performances from both Bolden and Speed.

Sam Roberts

Roberts has been disruptive in his second training camp, showing up with some solid pressure on both days and building off a good game against the Texans last week. So far, the Patriots have enjoyed good health in their defensive front seven, but depth is always a concern with the team's collection of veterans. Roberts can further state his case against the Packers, where he can be expected to play a large volume of snaps.

Kevin Harris

Ezekiel Elliott joined the team in Green Bay and upped his participation in the second session but it still seems like a long shot for the big back to play in the game. With Pierre Strong missing from the lineup over the last three sessions all signs point toward a night of heavy involvement for the second-year Harris. Even with Elliott in the mix, there's still a golden opportunity for Harris right now. New signing C.J. Marable and practice squad vet J.J. Taylor will also get their opportunities to make their roster case.

Kayshon Boutte

While there's uncertainty if the upper-level receivers will play much if at all, Boutte seems to be the perfect player to get a large number of snaps. Boutte had his moments in joint practices, though was a light participant when the teams came together for full field work toward the end of practice. That shouldn't be the case on Saturday night, as even if the starters do get a series or two, it won't be long before Boutte, Tre Nixon and Malik Cunningham are in the game. A standout couple of catches would keep building on the light momentum Boutte has gained over the last week.

Sidy Sow

As the offense continues to battle mounting injuries, the rookie Sow has found himself shooting up the depth chart at right tackle. Though it initially appeared the team bypassed selecting a tackle in the draft, the college guard, and one-season left tackle Sow is showing that wasn't necessarily the case. He needs reps to gain experience and that's what he should continue to get against the Packers, despite a full workload over Wednesday and Thursday.

Matt Sokol

Though reports say Mike Gesicki should be ready to go by the start of the season, there remains uncertainty at the tight end spot, uncertainty that Sokol could solve with another strong performance this summer. Sokol has been one of the more underrated players in camp and brings a physicality that makes him unique within the group. Even with Gesicki in the mix, it appears that there is a significant gameday roster role there for the taking if Sokol can finish the summer with a strong two weeks.

Check out photos from joint practices between the Patriots and Packers on Thursday, Aug. 17, 2023.

DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer

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