What to watch for tonight in Patriots preseason opener

What to watch for tonight in Patriots preseason opener
August 7, 2014, 1:45 pm
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LANDOVER, Md. – After a pair of grueling practices in Richmond, Va., and a Wednesday walk-though, the Patriots and Redskins are almost done with each other for 2014. Unless they meet in February.

Right.

Here’s a pile of subplots I’ll be watching tonight.

TIGHT END SITUATION
Justin Jones with the 1s? Could be. The 6-8 tight end undrafted out of East Carolina was the just about the last man standing for the walk-through after D.J. Williams sat out with a compression sleeve on his leg. That came courtesy of a teammate rolling up on Williams in practice on Tuesday. If Williams doesn’t go, Jones will be front-and-center. He’s had some decent plays in camp but it takes a long time for him to get moving off the line. Good chance to see how he moves in game action. Also, Asa Watson – brother of Ben and a player down the depth chart – will get some looks late.

SAFETY DANCE
Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon split a lot of reps with the first defense this week. Chung has had consecutive bad seasons after an injury-plagued 2011. Harmon is the future but he’s a second-year guy. Will Chung make a case for a roster spot? And will Tavon Wilson, who was getting plenty of reps with the starters back in Foxboro, be relegated to late-game duty? Finally, can Nate Ebner be more than a special teamer and relied upon in the regular defense if the need arises.

RUNNING BACK ROTATION
The intriguing James White, rookie from Wisconsin, has looked capable in practice. He’s not going to dislodge Shane Vereen or Stevan Ridley but it will be interesting to see when and where White gets used tonight. Nice pass-catcher and strong but small runner. Waterbug Roy Finch is my pick to electrify late in this one. He’s tiny. He’s fast. He’s going to be out there late making people miss.

GAROPPOLO THEATER
The rookie throws a nice ball. He also doesn’t yet see where the danger lurks when it leaves his hand. The end results for the second-round pick matter little tonight. His competency and composure are the most important things to look for in his first NFL action.

SLOT COMPETITION
The lead guy in the slot has been Kyle Arrington. But this week, Logan Ryan got some run with the 1s and Arrington was with the second team. The coaching staff always wants to shuffle back there so guys get experience with communicating with multiple players but Arrington is a bigger-ticket player. Ryan could conceivably be groomed for that spot, as could Alfonzo Dennard (probably 50-50 to play as he still comes back from offseason surgery).

CENTERING PASS?
Ryan Wendell re-signed in the offseason after a sketchy 2013. This week, he took some reps off while Dan Connolly moved to center from guard and Marcus Cannon and Josh Kline took the guard spots. With rookie center Bryan Stork down with an injury, Wendell probably isn’t going anywhere. But Wendell needs a good camp and preseason to lock down his roster spot.

ANYTHING JAKE
Defensive end Jake Bequette, the former third-round pick, has got to justify his roster spot. Now.

VETERANS UP FRONT
The Patriots have a cadre of talented veterans who are all coming off injury. I want to see if Tommy Kelly, Vince Wilfork and Will Smith get on the field (The Fat Gray Line?) at the same time and how effective they can be. Because I think they could wreak havoc. Old man strength coming heavy.