BOSTON (CBS) – The New England Patriots close out the preseason Wednesday night in New York against the Giants, although it won’t have the glamour of the two teams’ last meeting.
Chances are the marquee players who battled it out in Indianapolis in February will see limited — if any — time on the field, except for maybe a few pregame handshakes (or mean glares).
But with the final roster cuts on Friday, plenty of players will be playing for a job. Here are four story lines to follow in the Patriots’ fourth and final preseason game.
It was pretty clear Bill Belichick was not pleased with his team following Friday night’s loss to the Buccaneers. His first team didn’t put together a good drive until the second half, and the results overall were underwhelming.
The same thing happened last preseason, and starters found themselves taking the field in the final preseason game. Will history repeat itself?
Tom Brady played the first quarter last year, but might not see that much action this time around. He’ll probably lead Brandon Lloyd, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker for a couple of series, but don’t expect too much flash out of the starters. Belichick won’t want to show his hand and give the Titans any game tape to watch prior to the Pats’ Sept. 9th opener in Tennessee.
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We hate to sound like a broken record, but the Patriots’ offensive line has been bad this preseason. Very bad. So much so that people are starting to worry about the well-being of Brady. It’s at the point where even if he does play, the offensive line could still do something to get him hurt.
But no matter who is under center, the offensive line has plenty to prove. While having a good game in preseason means little, the linemen could use a shot of confidence.
Logan Mankins could see a series or two of action, and if Belichick wants to risk it, Sebastian Vollmer could use a couple of snaps after missing all three preseason games and most of last season. Center Dan Connolly could also use one more tune-up before snapping the ball to Brady in the season opener.
But the focus will be, again, on Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon. Both have seen a lot of the field this preseason, and are in need of a confidence boost as they head into the regular season.
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If the offensive line, whichever players hit the dirt, has a good game, it will give them something to build on over the next 10 days. If not, coach Belichick will have plenty of film and ammo to use in the week-and-a-half leading up to the regular season.
Stevan Ridley all but won the starting job with his 87-rushing yard performance against Tampa. He might get some time Wednesday, but it will be his spot to lose heading into the regular season.
What happens after that is still up in the air. And nearly everyone else in the backfield finds themselves on the bubble.
While it appears Jeff Demps’ stock is high, rushing for 41 yards on three carries in his preseason debut, he still only has half of a game under his belt. Shane Vereen is dinged up again, and carried the ball just twice for a loss of 3 yards on Friday. Undrafted rookie free agent Brandon Bolden got the second most carries in that game with six, managing 32 yards, but has just 69 yards on 21 carries this preseason. Danny Woodhead hasn’t seen much action, and it appears all but certain he’ll lose his kick return duties to Demps. Throw Eric Kettani in the mix, and it’s a whole lot of bodies fighting for just a few spots.
Demps should make the team, given nearly every other team in the NFL showed interest in the former Gator prior to him signing with the Patriots. Bolden could make it through waivers and find himself on the practice squad, and the same with Kettani. Woodhead could be the most interesting back to watch, as he’s seen himself out there for third downs (scary considering his 5-foot-8 frame) and unless Demps catches a case of fumblitis, has likely lost his returning job.
If Vereen needs to land on IR, it would benefit Woodhead. But having a good game Wednesday night would be much better for his case.
Who will make it to the final 53? Final cuts are due Friday night, so plenty of players will be fighting for a job Wednesday night.
While he had a great game against the Eagles, defensive end Jermaine Cunningham hasn’t been consistent this summer. Fourth-year defensive lineman Ron Brace is battling with rookies Jake Bequette and Justin Francis along with veteran Trevor Scott, and could use a solid performance to assure he sticks around. A little further back, there are four guys fighting for the final linebacker spot in Tracy White, Jeff Tarpinian, Mike Rivera and Niko Koutouvides. On offense, both Jesse Holley and Nate Ebner are battling it out for potentially the final wide receiver spot.
Another interesting case is rookie defensive back Alfonzo Dennard, who was viewed as a steal in the seventh round but hasn’t played much due to injury. He made his debut Friday night, but still did not see much of the field. Although he’ll likely stick around, it would be nice to see him do something Wednesday night to give the Patriots a better feel of what they have.
Jobs can be won in the final game. It’s just up to the players to go out and win them.