Five things to watch: Patriots-Saints

Five things to watch: Patriots-Saints
August 9, 2012, 11:31 pm
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1. The Patriots figure to play Tom Brady very sparingly Thursday night. So this will be a Hoyer-Mallett production. In recent years, Bill Belichick has given one player the bulk of the work in the first game and then given most of the second game to the other. So watch for that but don't draw depth-chart conclusions from it. When Hoyer's in there, it will be important for him to build on what's been a solid start to camp. Very competent, very accurate, smart and reliable football have been the order of the day when he's under center. Mallett? Different story. His accuracy is an issue. Watch to see not only whether he completes passes, but where on his receivers he puts the ball and the difficulty of the throws.

2. We're all terrified of a fallwinter without Ed Hochuli's two-minute explanations of why additional time needs to be put on the clock. Nobody wants to miss Jerome Bioger calling a "hoading" penalty. And it won't be football season without Jeff Triplette butchering the result of a game by Columbus Day. Even scarier, though, are the devils we don't know. The replacement officials for the locked-out regulars. Thursday night, we'll get a load of their work. I will reserve smarm until after kickoff. But there's no doubt that the regular officials are rooting for their replacements to make like the football version of Lt. Frank Drebin in Naked Gun 33 13. Spoke briefly tonight with a former official. He said, Penalties and rules administration are the two biggest hurdles to clear tonight. Also, the pace of the game and being in command will be important.

3. Stevan Ridley won the early portion of camp at running back. Shane Vereen's been playing better. Watch to see if Ridley looks competent in blitz pickup. Check to see if Vereen can make some plays that signal promise.

4. Brandon Bolden figures to get a ton of reps tonight once Vereen and Ridley are put on ice. He will impress you

5. Donta Hightowers presence can free up the entire defense because of his versatility and talent. How exactly does that work? Waiting to find out myself. But I think well see a ton of five and six DB sets tonight.