The first week of the preseason is usually a lighter affair featuring the middle and bottom of the depth chart and a chance to see the rookies suit up for the first time with real numbers. Tom Brady, and any other Patriot who will play an irreplaceable part this regular season, are unlikely to see much, if any, game action.
Still, for a team that values depth more than most, the first week of the preseason will still tell us a lot about who the Patriots are and will be in the coming seasons.
Here are the Carmax Keys to the Starting Lineup as the Patriots begin their march to Super Bowl 54.
NO INJURIES - Let's just get this out of the way at the top, the only thing that truly matters in the preseason is not losing anyone for the year. We only need to go back two years ago to this very same Ford Field where Julian Edelman tore his ACL and was lost for the season. That one play arguably cost the team another Super Bowl title. The Patriots have been lucky so far in camp in the injury department. Lance Kendricks is the only player so far to miss significant time with a new injury. Hopefully that luck continues in the preseason games. As long as nobody gets hurt the rest can be figured out.
ROOKIE IMMERSION - The best part of any first preseason game is finally getting a look at the rookies and there are a lot to be excited about this year. Jakobi Meyers has seen first team snaps at wide receiver and it will be much easier to evaluate JoeJuan Williams and Chase Winovich in a game situation. Not to mention that Damien Harris should lead the team in carries and might even have a few catches too. Then there's Jacob Bailey, who could get the first game opportunity as he battles Ryan Allen for the punter job. There are so many intriguing rookies and the Patriots need some of them to step up and look like they belong in the NFL. Unfortunately, we might not get a look at first-rounder N'Keal Harry due to a minor injury sustained in joint practices with the Lions on Tuesday.
TIGHT ENDS - Replacing three tight ends, including one of the best of all time, is no easy task and unfortunately, the new group has been devoid of impressive plays in training camp. Ben Watson will be a solid piece once he returns from suspension in October, but how will they get by with Matt Lacosse and perhaps Stephen Anderson in the meantime? Any kind of flash play from the tight ends would be a breath of fresh air and a case for some optimism.
DEFENSIVE DOMINATION - If you're looking for something to be unabashedly excited about this Patriots team it has to be the defense. Even if the top line guys don't play much against the Lions, the depth is so good there's still plenty to get fired up about. J.C. Jackson, Keion Crossen, Duke Dawson and Joejuan Williams are all fascinating players who should play. And we are just scratching the surface with Shilique Calhoun, Terrence Brooks and Obi Melinfonwu who are all on the roster bubble. At all levels of the defense there will be depth players who could make a splash and make a 53-man roster push.
TACKLES - With just one proven NFL tackle on the roster (Marcus Cannon), everyone will be watching Dan Skipper, Cedrick Lang and Martez Ivey closely in this one. This game should tell us just how worried we really need to be, because if Skipper is getting blown up by second and third stringers the team might be forced to make a move. Isaiah Wynn is slowly progressing but even if he gets healthy the team still needs a reliable third swing tackle, who at this point seems like Skipper by default. There's just so much uncertainty at the tackle position and while Dante Scarnecchia usually figures it all out it seems like there's less for him to work with this year.
PREDICTION - Since the final score of a preseason doesn't really matter, let's just go with predictions for which players will be the ones most talked about in the aftermath. Damien Harris, Braxton Berrios and Jakobi Meyers should be the fan favorites, expect all three to make some splash plays. On the flip side, it will be Matt Lacosse, Dan Skipper and Duke Dawson who fans are most concerned about. Regardless of how this first preseason game goes, there's still a long way to go. Good start or bad start, it's just the first steps against live game competition, establishing a baseline from which to build off of.