By Tom E. Curran
CSNNE.com Patriots Insider Follow @tomecurran
FOXBORO - Last week, I cautioned before the preseason opener against Jacksonville that "if Ryan Mallett goes 9 for 11 for 141 yards and a touchdown" you needed to keep it in check and not make early proclamations. Thenthe kid went 12 for 19 for 164 yards and a touchdown and everyone started bouncing up and down in their La-Z-Boy. Be that as it may (one of the all-time great transitional quotes that means nothing), we move on to preseason Game No. 2. Here are a few more things to keep your peepers peeled for when the Patriots take on Tampa. 1. The Brady FactorDo you agree with this observation? Rarely has so little been made of remarkable individual performance as was made of Tom Brady's 2010. I mean, the guy was the unanimous NFL MVP (first time . . . FIRST TIME), set the record for passes without a pick and threw 36 touchdowns and four picks. He may have been better last year than he was in 2007 when he went 50 and 8. He is getting Jordan-esque. Ruth-ian. Thursday night, he will play his first game of the 2011 season. He figures to be as he's been in camp. Absurdly accurate, and rapid-fire in his decision-making. These are the autumnal years of what may be the best quarterback ever. Watch every snap. 2. Safety DanceRegardless of how unhappy, disappointed, crestfallen or otherwise chagrined the Patriots are with Brandon Meriweather, they don't have a lot of recourse at this point. The safety is a necessary evil because the team did not replace departed free agent Jarrad Page. And James Sanders is damaged. So, despite the fact the team has shuttled in safeties for a look-see, Meriweather - unless something bizarre happens - will be going nowhere. It's just him, Sergio Brown and Patrick Chung. So happy, unhappy, no difference. How he plays and who he plays with is worth watching Thursday night. Is he getting the bulk of the reps or is he an afterthought?3. Looking for a StarThe Patriots have rotated Darius Butler, Leigh Bodden, Chung, Meriweather and Jonathan Wilhite through the position that guards the slot position. Which one emerges as the lead will be interesting and it will be a critical position in the AFC East with the talented slot and underneath receivers in the division. 4. Gronk PlayThe tight end didn't play last week against the Jaguars because of an injury. This week, he'll be ready to go. And there is no player that's been more impressive in training camp than Professor Gronkowski. How will he perform against unfamiliar competition? No doubt ridiculously effective. Don't tell anyone but he's the next great tight end in the NFL. 5. Love HurtsKyle Love has actually been pretty good in this camp. Playing next to Vince Wilfork on the defensive line in the 4-3, he's most likely just keeping the spot warm for Albert Haynesworth. But the second-year defensive tackle has been a gap-shooting beast in the 4-3 and has no doubt earned a spot for himself at this point.
Tom E. Curran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Tom on Twitter at http:twitter.comtomecurran.
By Tom E. Curran