By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers finished up their third joint practice on Thursday and now ready to play the second pre-season game of the year on Friday night in Foxboro.
Where To Watch-The game will be broadcast to a national audience on Fox at 8 p.m. ET. With Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston and Tony Siragusa, all three were at the joint practice both Wednesday and Thursday.
Here at the things we’ll be watching for:
Brady? Will He or Wont He?-As everyone knows Tom Brady dodged a bullet on Weds.’ practice when he went down with what seemed like a serious injury. But he returned to practice on Thursday and now the question is, “Will he play Friday night?”
He may play just for a series or two like last week and clear the way for Ryan Mallett to come in and get some significant work in. Mallett was poised for that last week before suffering a head injury in Philadelphia.
Tim Tebow, who played the most snaps of all the QBs last week should get some work in during the second half this week unless they plan on unleashing a little read option looks during situational work.
Can Blount Continue Hot Streak-Running back LaGarrette Blount was having a very quiet camp until last week’s game against the Eagles where he rushed for over 100 yards including a 51 yard touchdown run. He continued that with a good week in joint practices against his former teammates.
Not much was made this week over Blount nor Aqib Talib facing their former team but Talib is already considered an important cog in the defense. Blount was considered a bubble player and now is looking to take the next step in solidifying not only a roster slot but to take significant snaps backing up Stevan Ridley.
Having the added incentive of playing the team that traded you away never hurts. Blount appeared much quicker last week than he’s shown in camp and locked in a roster position battle with Brandon Bolden, this may be a big week for the big back.
How much will the defense show?-Last week in Philadelphia, the Patriots played a very vanilla scheme, they basically just lined up and they let the game play out which isn’t very surprising at all given that it’s the first pre-season game.
This week during the joint practices with Tampa, especially during the Wednesday session, they played with some of their formations and were doing some blitzing from different points of the compass. Particularly with Adrian Wilson in the dime packages, he rushed the QB virtually untouched a few times.
The results were a confused Josh Freeman who did not look sharp after a solid showing on Tuesday. Do the Patriots dial it up a bit on Friday or play their cards closer to the vest since they play the Bucs again on Week 3? Perhaps a bit of both.
Special Teams need to rebound-After a bad showing in Philadelphia where he missed two of three field goals, Stephen Gostkowski responded with a strong week of practice.
Ryan Allen and veteran Zoltan Mesko are locked in a positional struggle at punter, Allen outkicked his coverage and had a punt returned 62 yards last week. Allen had a punt blocked in practice this week and Mesko had a bad snap go into the ground and lost the ball against the Bucs.
The return game offered precious little return room for Leon Washington and Julian Edelman to work in so there is plenty of room for improvement across the board. The Bucs were awful in STs play in their opener against Baltimore. Perhaps this week, the Patriots can right their ship with an improved effort.
Look For More Tight End Production-During this year’s training camp, UDFA Zach Sudfeld has turned heads with his play and the ability to make plays in the passing game all over the field. He’s earning the trust of Brady and the two have hooked up quite a bit in first team reps.
Now will be a good time to take that next step and put some good numbers on the board for the rookie attacking the seam of the Tampa defense. Sudfeld is a big target at 6’7, 260 and is athletic with good hands.
It would also be a good time to see more in the passing game from Jake Ballard. Ballard had a slow start to camp as his knee was giving him problems from micro-fracture surgery a year ago. But Ballard played, as an in-line blocking tight end last week and was very effective.
Ballard can be effective at catching the football and this week would be another step in his recovery if he can translate that into becoming involved in the passing game.
*****NOTE*****- Due to this week’s joint practice this week’s Patriots 4th & 2 podcast takes place on Friday at Noon ET.