Forethoughts On Four Games

This season on BSMW, we’ll provide some thoughts going into each quarter of New England’s 2013 campaign. We begin with one of our favorite months of the year, August, due to the preseason.

No pressure. Low stress. Solid entertainment.

The Patriots play at Philadelphia August 9, host Tampa Bay August 16, travel to what’s left of Detroit August 22, and wrap up at home vs. the Giants August 29.

They might win. They’ll probably lose a few. That doesn’t really matter.

Here’s what we think does matter…

Can I Get An Amendola? In the past few months, the New England wide receiver position has seen more change than a coin-op washing machine. Can veteran Danny Amendola take over the Wes Welker role? If not (and that is a tall order, so to speak), can rookies Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce provide enough open targets for Tom Brady to avoid a miserable, hand-wringing preseason? A few well-timed first downs to Amendola in preseason games one and two should appease fans. If not, the locals will get tighter than a child’s t-shirt on Vince Wilfork.

Speaking of receivers…

A Bad Time To Lose Your Edelman: Looks like Julian Edelman, the team’s most experienced receiver in New England’s system and their best punt returner, feels about the training room the same way salmon feel about their birthplace: he’s just got to get back there. After a brief visit to team staff last week, Edelman made his way back to the field on Saturday. Fans would love to see him stay there over the next four weeks.

Hoo Are You? With the lack of participation from Rob Gronkowski and The No-longer Patriot, tight ends such as Michael Hoomanawanui and Daniel Fells will get more reps. (Spelled that correctly on the first try, by the way. And I don’t mean “Fells.”) While no TE combo will have the dynamism of last year’s, Gronkowski’s absence has allowed for shared reps for the above two, Jake Ballard and undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld, both of whom loom at least six-and-a-half feet tall.

What kind of production can this tight end group bring against some pretty solid defensive teams? We’ll be watching to find out.

A D-cline In D-line? The Patriots bulked up the middle with offseason with the addition of free agent defensive lineman/Sequoia Tommy Kelly, who will team with Wilfork as a formidable tandem. Armond Armstead has come down from Canada to offer assistance as an inside pass-rusher, though an undisclosed ailment has kept him off the field. After that, we have some serious drop-off, as young veteran Marcus Forston vies for a spot in the DL rotation. The Pats will need some depth provided by a new player among undrafted rookies Cory Grissom, Anthony Rashad White, Joe Vellano, or Scott Vallone. At least one needs to gain a preseason bump to turn coaches’ heads.

Playing The Sacks Solo: While pass-rushing requires a team effort, it helps to have an individual player who can win one-on-one battles. This preseason could give us a look at whether second-year end Chandler Jones has built up his repertoire of pass moves, or if Justin Francis has gotten the experience to become more consistent, or if Jake Bequette has benefitted from a so-called redshirt year, or if Marcus Benard has put his injury history behind him.

Again, we know a single player can’t do it all. But, if opposing offenses have to worry about one guy – any guy – and plan accordingly, this could become the staunchest defensive group the Patriots have had in years.

Call-ins For Collins: New England used their first draft pick on Jamie Collins this year. His chart-topping athleticism – as previewed in his crazy combine numbers (4.64-second 40-yard dash, 41.5-inch vertical leap, 11-foot, 7-inch broad jump) – point to wonderful possibilities for this defense. We’ll be watching for where coaches decide to put the 6-3, 250-pound Swiss Army knife and how he fares in his myriad positions.

OL? Oh, Well: Injuries to guards Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly and Marcus Cannon and the departure of Nick McDonald have given Tyronne Green, Chris McDonald and Markus Zusevics time with the first offense. The preseason provides the most favorable climate for in-game experience. Can the newbies help keep Tom Brady upright, or will the quarterback have to run around like Tim Tebow playing tag with a chicken?

As if we could ever fail to mention…

Tebow, Sweet Chariot: We know the dude can run, but can he run an offense? And how much will that offense have to change in order to suit his talents? Yet another reason to enjoy this month: Tebow-gazing without actual games on the line.

And if he gets the ball with two minutes left, the team down by six, and scores? OMTebow.

Bolden The Beautiful? If this team is going to go far in the playoffs, they have to run the football. Looks like they’ve got Stevan Ridley as the starter, Shane Vereen as the versatile pass-catcher and Leon Washington as the kick returner/third-down option. That leaves a battle between Brandon Bolden and LeGarrette Blount. It’s a bit of a comeback bid for each, as Bolden messed up the latter part of last season (or, as the ever-diplomatic Mike Reiss might say, “fell out of favor with the coaches”) by taking PEDs while Blount failed to do enough to stick at Tampa Bay. If either finds his previous form, we’ll see him stick, possibly both.

Also, if Ridley fumbles even once in the preseason, look out. Such is the fate of the Patriots running back who has to follow BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who dropped the ball less often than a Times Square New Year’s Eve celebration.

The Young And The Restless: You know, for a team with enough talent to make the AFC Championship last year, Patriots camp has provided a surprising amount of opportunities for young players to make the roster. From the aforementioned offensive and defensive linemen to Sudfeld at tight end, Kenbrell Thompkins at wide receiver and Steve Beauharnais at linebacker, preseason will help determine how many of these young players stick around. In a way, these games can set the course for the franchise.

Hmm. I guess they matter more than I thought.

Any players/positions you’re keeping an eye on this month? Let us know in the comments section below.

Chris Warner can be reached and prodded at [email protected]