for tonight's game....
FOXBORO — The Patriots take the field tonight for the first time since Super Bowl XLIX. Though it’s under far less significant circumstances, their quest to defend the crown takes another step as they open their preseason slate vs. the Packers at Gillette Stadium. Here are five things to watch:
1. Quarterback carousel
Tom Brady shouldn’t go anywhere near the field against a live defense, first, because of the state of the offensive line and, second, because he has nothing to prove while completing 78.7 percent of his passes throughout training camp. So now, all eyes will be on Jimmy Garoppolo, who has been spotty with a 64.1 camp completion percentage and seven interceptions. Sure, yesterday’s appeal hearing seemed to go well for Brady, but the Patriots need Garoppolo to catch fire in game conditions the way he did last summer, just in case. The problem is Garoppolo won’t be surrounded by many, if any, starters for more than a handful of plays. It’s tough to find a rhythm behind a backup offensive line while throwing to receivers who won’t all make the team.
2. Line dancing
Left tackle Nate Solder missed the last practice and a half. Center Bryan Stork has missed three consecutive practices. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer remains limited in team drills. So unless there’s a drastic change, Brady shouldn’t stand behind three backups and two rookies. With that in mind, it’s time to get a good look at left guard Shaq Mason and right guard Tre’ Jackson. Mason has been good, and Jackson looks real good, but it’s better to see them perform in a chaotic environment. Also, Cameron Fleming should get an extended look at right tackle, and rookie David Andrews and Josh Kline are in a good competition for the backup center job. With Ryan Wendell and Marcus Cannon also out tonight, there’s room for some young guys to make an impression, for better or worse.
3. Busy bubble
Of the interesting camp battles unfolding, keep an eye on rookie cornerback Darryl Roberts, a seventh-round pick who has broken up a team-high 10 passes in 11 practices and has made a case to surpass veterans Bradley Fletcher, Robert McClain and maybe even Tarell Brown on the depth chart. Josh Boyce and Brandon Gibson might be fighting for one receiver job. Tavon Wilson, who has three interceptions in camp, is outperforming Nate Ebner in a possible battle for one safety job. Defensive end Zach Moore is trying to hang on, and 30-year-old defensive tackle Antonio Johnson has been a surprise. Jonathan Freeny and James Morris have the edge over their linebacker competitors due to injuries, so they could create more separation. A lot still needs to be sorted out.
4. Run it down
LeGarrette Blount is the no-doubt starting running back, but he’ll continue to rest his right knee tonight. Tyler Gaffney was waived yesterday, and Travaris Cadet and Dion Lewis are likely out with injuries, and it’s conceivable Brandon Bolden could get the veteran treatment. That leaves Jonas Gray and James White to prove themselves, and it will be a good test behind a backup line. Gray can show how many snaps he deserves behind Blount, and White needs to show if he has made any improvement in terms of running through contact. Both should make the 53-man roster, but their performance in the preseason will help the coaches figure out how much of a load they can take off Blount and Bolden, who has taken charge of the receiving role in the last week.
5. Veteran treatment
If Brady is out, it opens up the possibility for other healthy starters also resting, including Bolden, tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receiver Danny Amendola, special teams captain Matthew Slater, defensive ends Rob Ninkovich, Chandler Jones and Jabaal Sheard, linebackers Jamie Collins and Jerod Mayo and safeties Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. Beyond that, would Malcolm Butler get the same treatment because he is clearly their No. 1 corner? (By the way, wideouts Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell, tight end Scott Chandler and linebacker Dont’a Hightower are all dealing with injury situations.) There’s always something to be learned with how Bill Belichick treats certain areas of the depth chart in the preseason.