As the NFL off-season comes to a loud yet peaceful end, fans are eager to see their team take the field for the first time in almost half a year. For teams with new quarterbacks, like the Panthers, Browns, Seahawks, and Broncos, the NFL Preseason will be the first glimpse at the face of their franchise for the coming years. For teams like the Bills, Chiefs, and Rams, the preseason will be a time to spot some rough diamonds that may lie on their already talented rosters.
Regarding the Patriots, the upcoming NFL Preseason will be less exciting than last year but should still be entertaining. So what should Patriots fans expect- or not expect -to occur on their slate of preseason games?
What Will The Playing Time Look Like?
If last preseason is any indication, the Patriots will likely elect to have an overwhelmingly run-heavy offense for the duration of their games. Considering the abundance of RBs that remain on the depth chart, I would even go as far as to expect 10-15 carries for three different players every game. So for guys like Pierre Strong Jr., Kevin Harris, and J.J. Taylor, Belichick may work them like horses for three straight weeks.
Unlike the three pass attempts fared in Buffalo during the regular season, I expect Belichick to work with Zappe and Hoyer to solidify the QB2 and QB3 positions on the roster. Logically you would expect the two to observe equal amounts of playing time. But, due to Hoyer’s age, accompanied by never-ending preseason injury concerns, Zappe will likely absorb the vast majority of minutes on the field.
The Wide Receiver room for the Patriots is also in a similar situation. Again, most of the starting-caliber receivers will be getting minimal snaps to avoid injury, while lower-end players will be getting an increase in the snap count, all typical and obvious roster management for preseason games.
Since the passing game will always come second to the run in Belichick’s eyes, the receivers who get snaps will not be amassing a baffling amount of receptions; instead, they will be contributing to the run-block. As a result, Tre Nixon, Kristian Wilkerson, Tyquan Thornton, Lil’ Jordan Humphrey, and Ty Montgomery are the most likely candidates for high usage in the preseason.
I am most intrigued to see the new secondary placed into action on the opposite side of the ball. With the additions of Marcus Jones, Malcolm Butler, Terrance Mitchell, and Jabril Peppers, fans are eager to see how the team works together. Although the sample size may be small during the preseason, it’s never too early to get a peek at how things might shake-up.
Who Should We Be Watching?
Despite a recent N’Keal Harry trade, things might get slightly interesting during the preseason. Harry’s departure (kind of) opens a spot for somebody to take, and I believe that somebody is Tre Nixon.
I’ve said before that Tre Nixon is on the symbolic “chopping block” for the team, and while I do still agree with that statement, I think he can escape that “block” with a firm Preseason performance. It was reported that, much to the surprise of players and coaches, Nixon put on an absolute clinic during minicamp in June. So, as premature as it may sound, I think Nixon is already the leaning favorite to fill in for Harry.
Unfortunately for Nixon, being the leaning favorite for a now-vacant job does not make you clear of any departure from the team. As we saw with N’Keal Harry, being an NFL player is a thankless occupation. Any signs of inconsistency may mean that you’ll be moving to another city, or worse, you may be moving out of football entirely.
Aside from the mysteriousness of Nixon, fans should also look out for any rookie on the field. Cole Strange, Tyquan Thornton, Marcus Jones, and Pierre Strong Jr. are just a few names that could positively contribute to the team in the coming future. If I had to choose one of these players, I would select Pierre Strong Jr., the fourth-round RB from South Dakota State.
Tre Nixon attempts to run into the open field against the New York Giants (via Musket Fire)
I was slightly surprised when the team elected to draft an RB in the fourth round, but after I learned that it was Pierre Strong, my uncertainty quickly dissolved. Coming into the 2022 Draft, Strong was my favorite guy due to his raw explosiveness and lateral speed. I’m excited to see whether his vast array of talents will be displayed in the NFL.
Who Do The Patriots Play?
In a mock season opener, the Patriots are set to square off against the New York Giants on August 11th at 7 PM. The Patriots, playing at home, will be tested by starting-caliber backup Tyrod Taylor and former third-round pick Davis Webb.
Following the game against the Giants, the Patriots will stay in Foxboro; instead playing the Carolina Panthers. As a result, Patriots fans will likely get a taste of the Sam Darnold and Baker Mayfield QB battle and some looks at rookie QB Matt Corral out of Ole Miss.
To cap off the short, three-week preseason, the Patriots will take “AirKrafts” to Las Vegas, Nevada, where they will reunite with; former OC Josh McDaniels, former backup Jarret Stidham, former Fullback Jakob Johnson, and former staff member Dave Ziegler.
Preseason is a fun way to kick back, relax, and watch Patriots football without the impending threat of heart attack. The essential thing in the preseason is more about player development than winning. If players are learning and growing, then the team as a whole is winning. Hopefully, the Patriots can make that their main priority this August.
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