BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots close out their preseason slate Thursday night with their annual exhibition game against the New York Giants.
We know Thursday night is going to be a tough one to sit through, and it really isn’t going to teach or show us much scheme-wise in regards to the 2018 New England Patriots. But it’s an important game for those trying to make a roster (even if it isn’t initially with the Patriots), and there are still a handful of roster spots up for grabs and some intriguing position battles still playing out. So this final game that doesn’t count/matter will be a good way to try to determine who will be making this year’s team, and who will be looking for a new job this weekend.
We’ll see plenty of bubble players giving it their all Thursday night, but it could be just as telling if we don’t see a player take the field. In most cases, if a veteran player doesn’t see the field in the preseason finale, that’s a really good sign their job is safe. On the flip side, if they’re getting a boatload of snaps, odds are against them still being on the team come 4pm Saturday afternoon.
Here are the players we’ll be watching when the Pats and Giants square off in the final preseason tilt of the summer.
While veterans playing Thursday night could spell the end for them on the New England roster, that may not actually be the case for Jason McCourty.
All signs point to Eric Rowe as New England’s No. 2 corner, so it’s unclear where the other McCourty will fit on the roster. The Patriots tried him out at safety last week against the Panthers, an experiment we may see again Thursday night. Playing against the Giants may not be the worst thing for the 31-year-old as he tries to show off some versatility late in his career, as long as he plays well.
Once viewed as a likely lock to make the roster, McCourty is anything but at this point. But seeing the field on Thursday may not spell roster doom for him like it usually does for others.
After missing all of last season after getting hurt in the presason finale, Jones made his preseason debut last week against the Panthers. While he saw some time at corner, he did most of his work on special teams, returning three kickoffs and one punt during the tilt.
If Jones wants to make the team, he’s going to have to do it with his special teams play. He was a dynamic return man in college, and will have to show off that flash again Thursday to lock down a roster spot.
Keion Crossen and J.C. Jackson
McCourty is struggling to crack the roster thanks to some strong play by two rookie corners throughout camp and the preseason.
Crossen, a 2018 seventh-round pick, bounced back last week after a tough game against the Eagles in Week 2 and may have earned his way onto the roster as a developmental project. The undrafted Jackson has also stood out this preseason and is in the same camp as Crossen. A strong game on Thursday could give either of them the inside track to be the next unheralded corner to make the Week 1 roster in New England. If the Patriots can’t fit them on their roster, there’s a good chance that neither will be unemployed for very long.
It’s not a great sign for his future with the team if Gillislee is on the field Thursday night. Jeremy Hill has shot above him on the depth chart, and playing Gillislee against the Giants could be Bill Belichick’s way of letting the veteran running back showcase himself for other teams.
The undrafted rookie running back scored two touchdowns and was one of the stars of New England’s presason opener, but he had just five carries in Week 2 and didn’t see the field at all last week in Charlotte. We’ll see if he can emulate his Week 1 performance Thursday night.
The Patriots brought in two more running backs this week in Kenneth Farrow and Khalfani Muhammad, and Webb could find himself battling with that duo for a spot on New England’s practice squad.
Riley McCarron and Devin Lucien
You may have heard, but the Patriots are a little thin at wide receiver heading into the season.
Both Riley McCarron and Devin Lucien have a chance to make the roster as a little added insurance as Julian Edelman sits out during his four-game suspension. A solid performance against the Giants could be enough to convince the Patriots that either deserves a chance to catch meaningful passes from Tom Brady in a few weeks.
Tom Brady isn’t going to play and the Patriots know what they have in backup Brian Hoyer. What rookie Danny Etling does under center is an intriguing storyline to follow as the Pats wrap up the preseason.
The seventh-round pick didn’t play last week and he’s taken just 20 snaps this preseason, completing two of his six pass attempts. Thursday night should be “The Danny Etling Show,” much like last year’s preseason finale belonged to third-stringer Jacoby Brissett.
Etling likely won’t make the 53-man roster, but Thursday night will help the team determine if he’s progressed enough to earn a spot on the New England practice squad.
Tune in to Thursday’s Patriots-Giants Preseason Finale on WBZ-TV — the flagship station of the New England Patriots. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. and after the game, catch full reaction and analysis on Patriots 5th Quarter!