Tonight, football is back in Foxboro! The 2011 NFL preseason begins for the Patriots at home against the Jacksonville Jaguars, who went 8-8 in 2010. The Patriots were one of the teams who made a huge splash during the Free Agent/Trade Frenzy with the additions of Shaun Ellis, Albert Haynesworth, and Chad Ochocinco just to name a few. You will probably only see Chad for about a quarter in this game because Ellis and Haynesworth have not been practicing in training camp as of late.
I know preseason football is not the most attractive to NFL fans, but when the lockout threatened the season, I was happy to watch any kind of football. Plus, this Patriots team has a ton of youth on the roster that we will get to see the future of this team in action as well as guys who will be huge contributors to the quest for Indianapolis in February. Plus, with David Garrard out for the Jaguars, we will see a ton of action from their future franchise quarterback in Blaine Gabbert.
For the Patriots, their 2011 draft class should get a lot of action in the 2nd half from guys like OL Nate Solder, RB’s Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley as well as quarterback Ryan Mallett.
Without further adieu, we get right back into the keys to the game for 2011:
A Blaine of Grass: The Patriots’ first team defense at least gets to see a guy at QB who could be starting some time this season for 2-3 quarters. Blaine Gabbert was the 10th pick in the draft for Jack Del Rio, and has a good camp from all accounts, rookie hazing aside. This is the guy that will be the franchise QB for the Jags. Last year, the Patriots saw another good rookie quarterback in the preseason in Sam Bradford. The problem for Blaine is going to be who will he throw the ball too? Mike Sims-Walker is off with Bradford in St. Louis, so Gabbert will be long away from his decent receivers at Missouri. I expect Ras-I Dowling to make a few plays at cornerback for the Patriots in this game.
Using the Mallett: Of course we don’t expect to see Tom Brady for much of the game tonight. My guess will be only a quarter. However, I expect to see a ton of the third round pick from Arkansas in the 2nd half. Ever since Bill Belichick made the surprise move and took Mallett on Day 2 of the draft, he has been the talk of the town outside of New England in terms of if he is the future successor to Tom Brady. Keep an eye on Mallett’s laser arm, but also his decision making. He has been known to throw interceptions in bunches. If he does that against second or third team defenses, it wouldn’t look good in his first game. Just to add Brian Hoyer’s name into the conversation, I would expect him to play in the 2nd quarter of this game.
The Price is Right: With Ochocinco, Welker, and Branch set as the top three wide receivers, there is a battle in camp between Brandon Tate and Taylor Price to be a starter on this team. Price is winning that competition as of right now. The one criticism I have of Tate is that he does not do well with stretching the field, which is why New England traded for Chad. Price is making some acrobatic catches in camp and to add another deep threat to use Welker and Branch for the middle of the field would be an added bonus for the Pats.