Curran: What to look out for during Patriots-Jaguars

Curran: What to look out for during Patriots-Jaguars
August 11, 2011, 3:37 pm
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By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Football. Finally. Here a few storylines to look out for during Thursday's preseason clash with the Jag-wires of Jacksonville. 1. Mind-Bendingly Early ProclamationsLast August 27, the Patriots lost a preseason game to the Rams 36-35. Devin McCourty looked bad, twice biting on double-moves and appearing every bit an overmatched rookie cornerback. Less than five months later, he was a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro. Remember that when Nate Solder gets turnstiled for a sack or Ryan Mallett goes 9 for 11 for 141 yards and a touchdown. This is a snapshot of where they are now, not where they will be. In fact, if the 4-3 defensive set gets no pressure and Blaine Gabbert shreds the Patriots defense, that's not so terrible. It shines a light on what needs tweaking. 2. The Talented Mr. RidleyOne of the consistent standouts to the early practices in Foxboro has been third round rookie running back Stevan Ridley. Every practice he's out there taking rep after rep and his combination of lateral quickness, hands and acceleration are a very nice surprise given I thought he was going to be more of a between-the-tackles runner. I'm very interested in watching him carry against the Jags defense. 3. Mallett vs. HoyerThe one thing that leaps out when anyone not named Tom Brady is taking snaps? How loooong it takes them to make a decision in the passing game. Just an observation. Brady is really good at what he does and Hoyer isn't even out of the NFL quarterbacking womb yet. And Mallett just showed up. But it will be worth watching the way the two younger quarterbacks run the offense. Mallett is just a pure, downhill thrower, the ball coming right over the top with a little loop inhis delivery. His motion reminds me of Randall Cunningham (NOT his mobility). Hoyer is a little more Jeff Garcia-like in decisions and throwing style (not his mobility, either). Hoyer should play a lot better than Mallett. But if Mallett plays well, that's a very good sign for the competition at backup quarterback. 4. Secondary rotationFigure the starters at corner will be McCourty and Leigh Bodden. Who is the nickel? Figuring it should be Kyle Arrington. Where do Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite fit in the mix? And rookie Malcolm Williams? If Butler or Wilhite are on the field in the closing minutes, that's not a good sign for either. Meanwhile, with James Sanders likely down because of missed practice time recently, Patrick Chung and Brandon Meriweather figure to be the starters. Chung's had an outstanding camp. Meriweather has not. 5.Practice success to game resultsBeyond Ridley and Chung looking so solid, the entire tight end crew has been impressive. Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez figured to make strides in their second years but some of the catches they've made have been ridiculous. And the inability of the secondary tomatch up successfully has been just as eye-opening. Undrafted Will Yeatman and fellow rookie Lee Smith are massive players both apparently more suited for the in-line blocking role of the tight end. But both of them have shown excellent hands in practice as well. 6. One gap or twoFirst sampling. Let's take a hard look and see whether the Patriots are having their defensive linemen hold up the Jags' linemen on first and second down or whether they try to shoot gaps. 7. Embrace the scrubsThere are currently 90 players in camp. There are a lot of down-the-roster decisions to be made and there are several players in states of disrepair -- Sanders, Albert Haynesworth, Brandon Tate, Ras-I Dowling, Shaun Ellis, Brandon Spikes, Kevin Faulk, Matt Light and Dan Connolly among them. Bill Belichick indicated this week players who hadn't practiced by Tuesday may not play. He also said to not expect starters to play big minutes. So look for a cavalcade of young guys. And the sloppiness that may accompany their presence. Tom E. Curran can be reached at tcurran@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran