Tonight, the New England Patriots will begin their 2014 preseason campaign against the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field (7:30 PM ET). After losing in the AFC Championship Game to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos last season, the team made some big roster chances, including signing cornerback Darrelle Revis after Aqib Talib left for the Broncos. In addition to signing cornerback Brandon Browner (who will be eligible to play Week 5), the team will be getting a much needed boost on offense from tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronk, who is coming off of tearing his ACL in December, should be available for New England when they begin the season Week 1 in Miami.
As for the Washington Redskins, they made a change at head coach with former Cincinnati Bengals’ offensive coordinator Jay Gruden replacing Mike Shanahan. Robert Griffin III will be looking for a bounce-back season after a 2013 campaign where he threw 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions en route to the team finishing 3-13. The offense has a new weapon for Griffin with DeSean Jackson, the former Eagles’ wide receiver, now joining Pierre Garcon as a target in the offense. Garcon is out of tonight’s game with a hamstring injury and Jackson has a chance to miss the game after twisting his ankle in practice on Wednesday.
Instead of giving three keys to the game, we are going to be taking a look at four players that you should keep an eye on throughout tonight’s game:
1. More Time For Mallett? – All the talk this offseason in terms of quarterbacks came from the Patriots drafting Jimmy Garropolo in the second round this past May. Despite all the trade rumors surrounding Ryan Mallett a couple months ago, he still remains with the team. As he is about to begin his fourth preseason, Mallett will likely get the bulk of the snaps against the Redskins.
For the third round pick out of Arkansas in 2011, this is a make-or-break camp for the QB, considering this is the final year on his rookie contract. He will look to improve on a 2013 preseason where he threw one touchdown in each of the final three games and had a completion percentage of 55.3%. NFL Network’s Mike Mayock said that he saw a “legitimate starting quarterback” in Monday’s joint practice. Can Mallett show that potential in the preseason to impress another team enough to make a trade?
2. Making “Amends” For Last Season: With all the talk around Rob Gronkowski’s return this season (won’t play Thursday) and the surprising season from Julian Edelman last year, one wide receiver that is not getting a lot of pub is Danny Amendola. It was a tough 2013 for Amendola who missed four games due to a groin injury and a concussion. On the field, he had just three games of 100+ yards and five games of five or more catches.
The team did sign Brandon LaFell from the Panthers, but with Aaron Dobson out while recovering from offseason foot surgery, the Patriots will be looking for more production from Amendola. Go back to last season’s second preseason game vs. the Buccaneers when he had six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown. It will be interesting to see who Brady targets the most this preseason, even though #12 will not be playing tonight.
3. Siliga Sitting On The Sidelines: The first preseason game hasn’t begun yet and the Patriots have an injury to someone on their defensive line. 24-year-old Sealver Siliga has a left hand injury with the extent of the injury not being known. New England had problems stopping the run last season (30th in the NFL). Vince Wilfork is coming off of an Achillies injury while Tommie Kelly is trying to come back from a knee injury. Two players I am watching on the defensive lines are Chris Jones and Joe Veilano. These are two tackles that did a good job in fill-in roles a season ago. Now, with some of the veterans back and the draft pick of Dominique Easley (rehabbing a torn ACL), it’s more than likely that only one of these two players will make the squad.
4. White Running Up The Depth Chart?: One of the more underrated draft picks for the Patriots this past May came in the fourth round when the team took James White. White, a running back out of Wisconsin, is a power running back that has been one of the positive stories in training camp. New England has two quality running backs in Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley, but both are in the final year of their respective contracts. White was one of those players in college that could hold onto the ball (only two fumbles in college). With Ridley’s ball security issues, could that mean more reps for White as the power back?