If Tom Brady plays, he will start. Signs have been pointing in the direction of Brady playing, but things are often fluid with the Patriots’ plans at quarterback in the preseason. Earlier this week, Bill Belichick echoed his prior remarks about getting Jimmy Garoppolo ready for the start of the season as the “priority,” and for his part, Garoppolo is focusing on a faster start after three-and-outs on his first two drives in the opener.
It’s LeGarrette Blount versus Tyler Gaffney for the top power back role, and since Gaffney didn’t play on offense in the first half in the opener, I want to see if he gets a chance to run behind the top line. If he does, that could be an indication the competition is heating up.
Rob Gronkowski won’t play, so it’s Martellus Bennett as the No. 1 option once again. He played 36 snaps in the opener. Can 2015 sixth-rounder AJ Derby keep up the momentum as he vies for the No. 3 role, or does veteran Clay Harbor — the early-camp favorite who has yet to emerge — begin to make a charge?
Free-agent signing Chris Hogan didn’t play in the opener, but has since been cleared for full contact so this could be his debut. We won’t see rookie Malcolm Mitchell, who dislocated his elbow in the opener, which means Aaron Dobson,Chris Harper and Nate Washington will look to make an impression at the X spot.
David Andrews currently has the upper hand in the competition at center.Bryan Stork — thrown out of practice Tuesday for throwing punches (that didn’t connect) on linebacker John Timu — will look to alter the course.
Under-the-radar second-year player Anthony Johnson (LSU) was taking some top reps in practice, which could be a sign that we’ll see more of him in this game.
Top backup Jonathan Freeny was cleared for full contact and thus could be making his debut. After Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins, the depth falls off. Rookie Kamu Grugier-Hill, who seems to make a notable play every practice or so, doesn’t fit the traditional prototype at the position at 220 pounds.
Undrafted rookies Jonathan Jones and Cre’von LeBlanc have made plays on the ball in practice, and that continued in the opener. If they keep playing that way, they could make it tough on coaches when deciding roster spots.
Jordan Richards, the 2015 second-round pick from Stanford, should continue to see valuable reps behind starters Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. Richards also has been the personal protector on the punt team.
After some struggles in punt coverage in the opener, retired special-teams coach Scott O’Brien showed up for the week of practice with the Bears. It might have been a coincidence, but the Patriots will be looking for improvement against Chicago.