The New England Patriots are 2-0 so far through the preseason as they prepare to take on the Carolina Panthers this Friday for their third preseason game, commonly referred to as the “dress rehearsal” game for the regular season. Here are a few storylines to monitor during the game and throughout the week.
The Patriots signed undrafted rookie punter Corey Bojorquez back in April to provide some competition for incumbent punter Ryan Allen, who struggled at times with distance on his punts last year. In addition, given that Allen is entering a contract year, it made sense for the Patriots to bring in a potential replacement on a cheap contract. Bojorquez has shown off a very strong leg at camp, but does seem to lack control at times. The interesting thing about this position battle, though, is that Bojorquez has yet to see the field so far during the preseason; Allen has been in charge of all of the punts as well as holding for Stephen Gostkowski on field goals. This would suggest that Allen is the favorite for the position right now and may have been all along. It is worth seeing if Bojorquez gets any playing time this August or if Allen will win the job without his competition even stepping on the field.
Another interesting positional battle that is unfolding somewhat strangely is at the punt returner position. With Danny Amendola gone and Julian Edelman suspended for the first four weeks, the team is lacking their top two punt returners from the past several years. While the Patriots have had a few different guys return punts throughout camp, wide receivers Riley McCarron and Braxton Berrios have been the only two returners for the team in game action. And with Berrios out with an injury, McCarron took over all of the punt returning (as well as kick returning) duties for the team in last week’s game. While the most likely scenario is that the team wants to evaluate the two young players as much as they can in game action to see if they justify a roster spot, it does seem somewhat notable that none of their other likely returners (Patrick Chung, Cordarrelle Patterson) haven’t fielded any kicks in-game. It will be interesting to see if McCarron still handles most of the return duties again this week.
Another note: Cyrus Jones, who started the 2016 season as the team’s primary returner and was set to fill the role again last year before tearing his ACL, has yet to see the field this season. As the saying old saying goes: you can’t make the club in the tub; Jones would likely have a good chance at winning the job outright, but will have to get on the field if he wants to earn the spot. Otherwise, he may be in danger of getting cut.
Isaiah Wynn’s Injury
With Isaiah Wynn out for the year with a torn Achilles, it leaves the Patriots’ offensive tackle spot in a precarious position. Trent Brown is likely going to be the starting tackle, but likely starting right tackle Marcus Cannon hasn’t practiced in a few weeks. LaAdrian Waddle is a capable backup who played well at right tackle in the few starts he made last year, but if Cannon has to miss a part of the regular season, then the team will likely need to carry a fourth tackle as extra depth. That would have been Wynn if he hadn’t gotten hurt, but it now opens up a one spot for either Cole Croston, Matt Tobin, or Ulrick John. Croston should be the favorite considering he was on the team’s active roster last year, but it still remains to be seen how many offensive linemen the team will elect to carry this year. It will be worth watching who gets first or second team reps at right tackle on Friday.
Even though Bill Belichick will never outright say it, the third preseason game is the closest we’ll get to regular season action in August. Teams will often create a real gameplan for the first quarter or so to get a feel for how their starters grasp the playbook and work together. Last year, for instance, the Patriots started Jordan Richards on the edge as an outside linebacker in their Bear front, which they would later use in their season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. Since the Patriots defense will look slightly different this year under new acting defensive coordinator Brian Flores, it will be worth noting what kind of plays and personnel he uses throughout the first quarter on Friday.
That’s it for this week’s quick hits! Make sure to follow these storylines throughout the week and the rest of camp!