By: Steve Balestrieri
With the first two joint practices with the Eagles in the books and now well into the second week of training camp the Patriots prepare for their first pre-season game of 2013 on Friday night as the take on Philadelphia.
The teams will conduct a joint Thursday morning walk-thru and then prepare for the game on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. The game will be televised locally on WBZ TV and on the NFL Network. It will also be carried on the radio at 98.5 FM The Sports Hub.
The good part of the joint practices is that it gives the team some film of the players of both teams competing against one another and will aid in the game planning, albeit, a much more vanilla approach than one would see in the actual regular season.
So here is a list of six things to watch for on Friday night as Bill Belichick leads the team into their first test of 2013:
Come Out of this Contest Healthy- With the rash of serious injuries already taking its toll across the NFL, neither team wants to lose any of its players in the first action of the season.
The Patriots are already dangerously thin at RG and DT so the last thing they need is to lose any players from those positions especially. If they come out of Philadelphia healthy, that is the biggest plus.
Tom Brady Should Play- There has been a lot of talk that Brady may sit this one out as he’s done in a few other pre-season tilts to start the season.
Not this year…. Brady isn’t bringing back a core of receivers that is already locked in stone. Other than really Danny Amendola, the positions are all still there for the taking.
Brady needs to get some actual game work in with the rookie WRs, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins as well as rookie TE Zach Sudfeld. Fans shouldn’t expect very much, no more than a series or two but they need to work on their timing against an opponent in a game situation.
All Eyes Will Be On Rookie WRs- Needless to say, with all the gloom and doom of the spring being levied on the new offensive weapons, then coupled with some optimism this summer as they’ve flashed some play making ability, this will be their first test.
In practices, the rookie WRs have shown a remarkable ability to break the jam at the line of scrimmage and this is perhaps the biggest, fastest group of wide receivers in the Bill Belichick era.
There will be some jitters, there will be some nerves…that much is to be expected, but how they perform on Friday will be something they hope to build upon as the season approaches. The Eagles, like the Patriots will no doubt feature a pretty vanilla defense, so this may be the time to gain a little confidence.
Rookies on Defense Bear Watching – Top draft pick Jamie Collins will probably see a lot of work at OLB and in coverage in this contest. Collins has been an intriguing player to watch during training camp. He’s very athletic and the team has been moving him around a bit already.
He will hopefully this season fill a tremendous need at helping the linebackers in coverage. Something they struggled in, rating 29th in the NFL at covering tight ends last season according to Football Outsiders.
But Collins is not alone, Pats fans should pay close attention to rookie cornerback Logan Ryan, who may be thrust in a more prominent role considering the legal woes of starter Alfonzo Dennard as well the always present injury concerns of Ras-I Dowling. Ryan has had his good as well as rough moments in camp as he learns the NFL game.
S Duron Harmon, whose selection was widely panned during the NFL Draft, has played pretty solidly so far and has garnered a few first team snaps as well. Expect to see him a lot of him on Friday night.
7th round pick Steve Beauharnais has been pretty impressive so far in camp. A sure tackler, he’s hasn’t looked lost out there and even garnered some time with the first team defense. He’ll get a lot of play inside at MLB and is someone to watch.
Not Too Early For Big Special Teams Play- A story line to keep an eye on will be the competition between P Zoltan Mesko and Ray Guy Award winner Ryan Allen, the rookie from Louisiana Tech. Allen got the better of the veteran in the early going with some booming punts with great hang time.
But Mesko has come on as of late, and his directional punting inside the 20 has been excellent. Both of them will see some action on Friday and this competition may go right down to the wire.
The addition of Leon Washington should help the Patriots in a large way in the kick return game. This was an area that the Patriots struggled in during the 2012 season. Washington is a dynamic returner with great vision of the field and he’ll be front and center.
Ditto for punt returner Julian Edelman, who has returned to health from the foot injuries that cut short his 2012 season as well as all of the spring workouts. Edelman appears quick and decisive and his cuts show no evidence of any lingering issues.
Dark Horse Player To Step Up- Every season, we see some players with high expectations seem to struggle once the pre-season games start, while others who have been toiling in the shadows make a big jump in play.
One player that we’ve been touting the past week on the defense is veteran DE Marcus Benard. Benard was a productive player for the Cleveland Browns racking up 7.5 sacks in 2010 before a couple of devastating injuries cut short both the 2011 and 2012 seasons.
Now completely healthy, Benard has been a stand-out in the 1-1 drills showing a consistent pass rush. When camp started he wasn’t given much of a chance to make the 53 man roster. Now he could be that type of Mark Anderson reclamation project this season and be a productive member of the defense.