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BOSTON (CBS) – The first real sign that football season is fast approaching comes Friday night, when the New England Patriots return to our television sets in an event that will resemble an NFL game. It won’t be a real NFL game, and it’ll be played by many guys who won’t be around when the real season begins in September, but hey, it’s been a long time and at least it’s something.
While there won’t be a tremendous amount of valuable knowledge to be gained about the 2013 Patriots based on the 60 minutes of football in Philadelphia, there will be much to learn about many of the new players. Here are four items to keep an eye on as the Patriots kick off their preseason against the Eagles.
1. Who’s Brady’s New Guy?
If you blink, you may miss this one, but it may be the most important thing to watch. We know we won’t see Tom Brady looking for Wes Welker (in Denver), Rob Gronkowski (injured) or Aaron Hernandez (imprisoned), so who will Brady look for first?
Assuming Brady does indeed play, it will be interesting to see which receiver works best with him. Danny Amendola, obviously, is supposed to be the guy, but chemistry is no easy thing to have right off the bat. Julian Edelman may have the upper hand, given his experience, but he may not even get much playing time at all. He missed the first week of camp, and the young guys have looked good.
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There are draft picks Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce, as well as Kenbrell Thompkins. Whoever it is, Brady has a lot of ground to gain with his new receivers, and not a lot of time to do it. Whether Brady is in the game for a few plays or multiple series, take note of which receivers catch his eye first.
And then there is …
2. Zach Sudfeld
With Gronk out for the short term and perhaps the first six weeks of the season, and with Hernandez writing letters from his jail cell, the Patriots are going to need a tight end to step up and produce. It was thought prior to camp that Jake Ballard would be the obvious choice, but Zach Sudfeld has spent the last two weeks turning heads in Foxboro.
The 24-year-old joined the Patriots with little fanfare, but the 6-foot-7, 260-pound undrafted rookie has impressed on the practice field. On Friday, he’ll have his first formal introduction to Patriots fans in a game situation. How he responds could be a good sign for not just his chances of making the team but of playing a significant role in the passing game.
3. Stay Healthy
Above all else, the most important thing that a player can do Friday night is stay healthy. That’s always easier said than done, considering most guys are fighting for a roster spot and need to impress the coaching staff. Players can’t allow themselves to worry about getting hurt, but from a spectator’s perspective, it’s just about all that matters.
Last year, Dane Fletcher suffered the worst of all injuries, tearing his knee in a game that didn’t really count on a play that didn’t really count (it was a Patriots punt, but a Saints player was offside, giving the Patriots a first down). Fletcher missed the entire season.
The goal Friday will be to avoid such a situation.
3.5. Tim Tebow
Tim Tebow Tim Tebow Tim Tebow, Tebow Tebow Tim Tebow. Tebow, Tim Tebow. Tim Tebow? Tim Tebow.
(Translation: Tim Tebow will play. It might be interesting.)
4. An Introduction To Jamie Collins
To be perfectly clear, this is just a preseason game, and the first one at that, so there’s no reason to place any expectations on any player. That being said, it’s easy to look back at least year’s preseason opener against the Saints, when that year’s top pick, Chandler Jones, said “hello” to NFL competition.
Jones bullied Jermon Bushrod with a bevy of moves, chased down Drew Brees and looked like a total monster in his first NFL action. It was a sign of things to come, until an injury eventually slowed Jones’ rookie season.
Well, Friday night, top pick Jamie Collins will be on display for the first time, and he’ll be worth watching. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound linebacker doesn’t come with the same hype as Jones, as he was drafted 31 spots later than Jones. Still, the top pick tag means the spotlight will be on Collins, who will no doubt be fired up to get in on some NFL action.
Tune in to Friday’s Patriots-Eagles preseason game on WBZ-TV and 98.5 The Sports Hub — the flagship stations of the New England Patriots. Pregame coverage begins on 98.5 FM at 4:30 p.m. and on WBZ-TV at 7 p.m..