BOSTON (CBS) — The days are getting shorter and a little more mild, but the good news is those are sure signs that football season is just around the corner. We just have to make it through one more preseason game before the Patriots raise their Super Bowl LI banner, and kick off the 2017 NFL regular season.
The Patriots and New York Giants will square off in their annual preseason finale Thursday night at Gillette Stadium, one final tune-up for both teams before the games start to count.
Anyone you would want to see play on Thursday will hopefully be watching from the bench or the comfort of their own home. That means they’ve made the team and Bill Belichick is not going to send them out there just seven days before the season opener.
However, the game is one final chance for players who find themselves on the bubble and fighting for a roster spot. So instead of giving you four storylines we’re watching for in this one, here are a handful of players who will be out there looking to prove something to the architects of the Patriots’ 53-man roster:
D.J. Foster & Brandon Bolden
The pair of running backs could be battling each other for a roster spot. Bolden won’t see much action at running back during the regular season if he makes the team but he’s carved out a nice role on special teams over the last few years, which likely means he’ll make the final 53-man roster.
Foster is far from a lock, sitting behind just about every other running back on the depth chart, but he may be able to sneak onto the roster due to Julian Edelman’s season-ending injury. The 23-year-old made the team after an impressive preseason last year (he was released and signed to the practice squad in late November) and he’s shown off his play-making ability again this summer, leading the preseason Pats with 81 rushing yards. Foster is a hard runner, as he displayed on a powerful 13-yard run on a 4th-and-5 play last Friday in Detroit, but he has struggled in the passing game. His ability to return kickoffs may be the deciding factor in whether or not he makes the team.
James O’Shaughnessy & Jacob Hollister
If the Patriots decide to go with three tight ends, which wouldn’t be too surprising given the injury histories of Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen, the battle will come down to O’Shaughnessy and Hollister — with O’Shaughnessy holding a slight edge over the undrafted rookie.
O’Shaughnessy, acquired from the Kansas City Chiefs in a draft weekend trade, has plenty of experience on special teams and would be another big body to help block along the offensive line. Hollister can make more noise in the passing game, but he didn’t do it with Tom Brady throwing him the football, so it’s going to be tough for him to make the roster.
Both players should see extended playing time on Thursday night, and if they don’t make the final roster, they are candidates for the practice squad.
Austin Carr & Devin Lucien
There’s a chance either earn a roster spot due to Edelman’s injury, adding some depth to an already deep receiving corps.
Carr leads the team with 11 preseason receptions, and Lucien was turning heads in training camp before Danny Amendola and Malcolm Mitchell returned to practice. Both will need a strong showing on Thursday night to give them a chance at the 53-man roster, and even that may not be enough.
We can’t get enough Cyrus Jones, one way or another. He hasn’t played too well in the secondary this preseason, but we’ve seen more good than bad on special teams. It’d be surprising to see the Patriots cut ties with a second-round selection before his second season, but here we are with Jones.
Another step in the right direction on Thursday should secure his spot on the team, and give him a little more confidence heading into the regular season.
The undrafted rookie defensive lineman has earned some rave reviews for his play this preseason, and he had another strong effort on Friday in Detriot with a pair of QB hits and some disruptive play at the line of scrimmage. Given the lack of depth along the D-Line, Butler is as close to being a lock as an undrafted rookie can get in the preseason.
Getting first-team reps last week bodes well for Butler come this weekend, and another strong preseason performance could raise the expectations for the versatile lineman even higher.
The Pats love him on special teams (and he’s also a great locker room/community guy), but there are still questions about Richards at safety and on defense as a whole. He played some linebacker on Friday in Detroit as the Patriots try to figure out a spot for him, and though he came up with a first-quarter fumble, his struggles with tackling continued. Richards couldn’t lock up Lions running back Dwayne Washington on an 18-yard touchdown in the third quarter, which is kind of important for a player on the bubble.
His special teams play may save him, but Richards could just as easily find him on the free agent market this weekend if he struggles again on Thursday night.
With a lack of depth at linebacker, and with Dont’a Hightower potentially seeing more time as a pass rusher, it shouldn’t be hard for Freeny to lock up a spot on the roster. But he was out on the field in the fourth quarter last Friday in Detroit, which is never a good sign for a five-year veteran. The 28-year-old may be pushed out by younger players like Trevor Bates (23) and Harvey Langi (24), all of whom should see plenty of action on Thursday. Mix in newly acquired linebacker Marquis Flowers, and Freeny’s stay in New England may be done.
Tune in to Patriots-Giants on WBZ-TV and 98.5 The Sports Hub — the flagship stations of the New England Patriots. Kickoff is set for 7:30pm, with pregame beginning on 98.5FM at 4:30pm and on WBZ-TV at 7pm!