By: Steve Balestrieri
Friday night the New England Patriots take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the third preseason game for both teams. It should be an interesting matchup as the Patriots gear up in their â€śdress rehearsalâ€ť game for the regular season.
While many starters sat out Mondayâ€™s game against Philadelphia, we should probably expect to see most of them for at least the first half tonight. Bill Belichick spoke this week about conditioning and in the heat that will be something to watch for.
But here are the things I will be looking at tonight:
Tavon Wilson- The rookie second round pick who was widely panned by the press and draft experts as having been a reach in the draft, will likely see a lot of playing time with the first unit defense due to the injury to Pat Chung.
Wilson has had his moments in camp, both good and bad but overall his play has been solid so far. It will be interesting to see the communication between he and Steve Gregory back in the secondary and see how the rookie fares against top competition.
Offensive Line- While both Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer have returned, how much if at all each plays will be something to watch. I would think Mankins might get a series or two, doubtful we see Sea Bass at all. But this unit needs to step up and play much better.
Itâ€™s been hard to get an accurate read on both the QB and WR play when the QBs are running for their life on nearly every down. The only way for Tom Brady to get any kind of rhythm with the WRs is to give him time to find them. Both Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon will have to step up their games this week.
New Look Defense- After a pretty good game against the Saints, Belichick sat down many of his starters for the Eagles, including starting CBs Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington, Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo. They will return this week and facing the Bucs revamped passing attack that has brought in Vincent Jackson and Dallas Clark will be a good test for them.
The much maligned secondary has looked better so far this season, health being a major factor although Chung is injured again and wonâ€™t play. But Ras-I Dowling, now fully healthy basically shut down Jeremy Maclin for Philly last week and his play along with McCourtyâ€™s will be focused upon.
This should also be the first opportunity to see the starting three linebackers, Jerod Mayo, Brandon Spikes and Donâ€™tâ€™a Hightower play together as a group. They have the potential to be the backbone of this defense. Not since the 2003-2004 Super Bowl Champion teams have the Patriots had the potential for a group to be so dynamic. This is probably the most exciting thing for me to watch this season.
Jeff Demps- After all the hoopla surrounding Demps signing, we may get a glimpse of Demps tonight, probably primarily as a kick returner. And judging from how pedestrian this unit has been for the past couple of years, the Patriots could do with a shot in the arm in that department.
Everyone knows that Demps possesses world class speed, but whether heâ€™ll be able to translate that into success on the fields of the NFL remains to be seen. With just a few days of practice under his belt, donâ€™t be too harsh on him if he struggles somewhat out of the gate.
Donteâ€™ Stallworth- With both Jabar Gaffney and Wes Welker possibly sitting out tonightâ€™s game with the Bucs, Stallworth will have a prime opportunity to carve out a niche for himself on the roster as he may see some quality snaps with the first unit.
Stallworth didnâ€™t do much against the Eagles but with his game being primarily to stretch the field using his speed, it was difficult to accurately judge him considering the QBs had no time to throw. But with Deion Branch having a strong showing last week, Stallworth will need to step up his game opposite Brandon Lloyd.
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