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Replay: Patriots Unfiltered Fri Sep 18 - 12:00 AM | Sun Sep 20 - 05:55 PM

Keys to the Starting lineup presented by CarMax: Second time's a Brees

Bill Belichick was seemingly quite happy with the work his Patriots got this week in the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia with Sean Payton's Saints.

Now, the two teams and their future Hall of Fame quarterbacks will take their competitive battles to the preseason game field in Saturday night's meeting at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans.

The two teams' work earlier this week at the Greenbrier resort saw what one might expect, Tom Brady and Drew Brees finding a lot of success leading their passing attacks against defenses with something to prove heading into the 2015 season.

While that storyline may continue Saturday night, Brady's impressive and extensive work in Wednesday's practice could indicate a limited role for the New England starter in the second week of exhibition action. 

Regardless, for the Patriots defense it will mark a second straight week against one of the premier passers in the game.

Belichick and his coaching staff will clearly be looking for improvement from the Packers preseason opener when he declared that his team simply wasn't good enough in any of the three phases of the game.

Beyond general improvement across the board, here are a few key areas Patriots fans might want to focus on in the second week of preseason action:

More reps for Garoppolo - Second-year backup Jimmy Garoppolo was up and down at various times in the opener against Green Bay. He struggled with his deep balls, but found a third-quarter rhythm when he completed 10 passes in a row. He held the ball too long at times but also was under duress from an aggressive Packers pass rush. Garoppolo should get another extended portion of playing time against the Saints, a team that can also turn up the blitzes and send some unique schemes to the field under Rob Ryan's direction. Garoppolo's development is one of the major storylines this spring in New England and that story takes another step on Saturday night.

Line health improving - Whether it's Brady or Garoppolo at the helm, the New England quarterbacks need time to do their job. The preseason opener saw the Patriots field a front that had a combined zero career NFL starts. But tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer have gotten healthy on the practice field and might be ready to suit up in the Superdome. There will also be continued focus on the guard position where rookie fourth-round picks Shaq Mason and Tre' Jackson look to build on relatively decent pro debuts. The center position remains a concern as undrafted rookie David Andrews and veteran Josh Kline will continue to prove their versatile worth.

Malcolm Butler's test continues - Aaron Rodgers went right at Butler early on in the preseason opener. Butler was competitive in that challenge. Drew Brees went after Butler on the practice field this week and the young corner had some major struggles. Butler oozes confidence and doesn't seem to let bad plays stick in his brain or hurt his approach. He and the entire new-look New England secondary get another test against an elite quarterback and pretty diverse group of wide receivers. The secondary remains a work in progress with Belichick tinkering with personnel groups and moving guys around. That lone constant has been Butler at left corner as he looks to prove he's worthy of a starting job and potentially the role as New England's No. 1 corner.

Debuts in the Bayou? - The second week of the preseason for the Patriots could bring a number of guys looking to make their summer debuts. Veteran linebackers Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower have been a full go in practice and might get a chance to knock off some game rust. Solder and Vollmer could get into the mix on the line. LeGarrette Blount has worked back from his knee injury and might be poised for some preseason reps. Rob Gronkowski has been the best, most consistent Patriots player this summer. After sitting out the opener maybe he'll get some game run with Garoppolo, which would aid the young passer's chances for success.

Competitive momentum - The preseason is about getting ready for September for the established veterans. For others, it's about winning jobs and earning roles. Undrafted rookie Chris Harper has another chance to prove himself after a solid opener when he had a game-high seven catches. Matthew Slater might be able to show his receiving skills that could come in handy in the type of health pinch the Patriots are in these days at receiver. Linebacker Jonathan Freeny can build on his impressive opener. James White has a chance to once again flash his skills as he did against the Packers. The preseason is about progression and building from one day to the next, from one game to the next. Plenty of Patriots have that opportunity Saturday night against the Saints.

What other things will you be watching for in this preseason trip to New Orleans? Let us know with a comment below!

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