5 things to watch in the Patriots’ second preseason game
Aug 11, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick looks over the field during the second half of a preseason game at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
This week of joint practices with the Carolina Panthers offered some good insight into how the Patriots view certain elements of their roster as training camp winds down. Friday night’s preseason game – the second of three this year – will be a chance to see of those trends continue in game action.
The game also could be the first chance some of the Patriots’ starters get to take the field this year, after most of them sat in last week’s preseason opener against the Giants. Asked on Wednesday if he expected to play Friday night, Mac Jones replied “I hope so” with a chuckle, which seems like an indication the first-team offense will see at least a series or two.
Between starting position battles to new player usage, there’s a lot to look for Friday night. Here’s five players/positions to watch…
Jul 30, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Ty Montgomery (14) with the ball at the Patriots training camp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Since then, signs have pointed to Ty Montgomery being the leader for that job. Montgomery didn’t play in last week’s game, along with other projected key offensive contributors. Then in joint practices, he was featured heavily during the simulated two-minute drill periods, which are among the most consequential periods in all of training camp.
So one thing to watch here is how Montgomery looks in that role. He was targeted regularly during camp this week – will that be the same in a game environment?
There’s also the question of the depth behind Montgomery. Even with James White, the Patriots have traditionally liked to have a second option to rotate into the game at times (ex. Rex Burkhead). Among those competing for that spot are Rhamondre Stevenson and rookie Pierre Strong Jr.
Jun 8, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots receiver Kendrick Bourne (84) during the New England Patriots minicamp at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports
Kendrick Bourne’s quiet camp started to make headlines this week. It looked on Tuesday like he was starting to get more involved, but his day ended up being cut short when he was removed from practice for fighting. When he returned on Wednesday, he look most of his snaps with the projected second unit.
Was Bourne’s ‘demotion’ for the day a slap on the wrist for getting kicked out of practice the day before? Or an indication that he may be falling on the depth chart.
There’s plenty of reasons for the Patriots to want to keep Bourne involved. He has a good relationship and good chemistry with Jones. Plus, if he’s performing at the level he was last year, his contract looks like one of the most team-friendly for a wide receiver in the league in terms of value, carrying a cap hit of just under $6.5 million this season.
It’s worth noting that Bourne struggled at times in last year’s camp too, before becoming arguably the Patriots’ best receiver in 2021. Is it just a matter of him performing better in games than practices? Friday night projects to be his first game action of the year after he sat out last week.
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste (72) walks to the practice field for the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Isaiah Wynn has now missed the team’s last four practices, and was limited in the last session he was at. It’s been 10 days since he last took the field with the team.
For the last three of the four practices he’s been out, Yodny Cajuste has filled in at right tackle. Cajuste has held up well as the offensive line as a whole has improved. Following last week’s game, Bill Belichick noted Cajuste is having his best camp with the Patriots so far.
Could Cajuste end up pushing Wynn – who is playing a new position and in a contract year – for the starting job? The more time Wynn misses, and Cajuste continues to impress the coaching staff, the closer this battle will get. With contact limited in practices, game action will be a big chance for Cajuste to close the gap.
Anfernee Jennings speaks to the media following a Patriots training camp practice. (Alex Barth/98.5 The Sports Hub)
So far in camp Anfernee Jennings has been one of the biggest positive surprises for the Patriots. After missing all of last season, the 2020 third-round pick is starting to show why he was highly regarded coming out of Alabama.
To this point, Jennings looks like he has worked himself into a starting or heavily involved rotational role in the Patriots’ defense. He’s seen time both on the strong side – stepping into the spot vacated by the departure of Kyle Van Noy – and the weak side when Matthew Judon missed practice last week.
Things really peaked for Jennings when he had a big game against the Giants last week. Can he be an issue for the opposing offense for a second straight week?
May 23, 2022; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive back Jonathan Jones (31) walks to the practice field for the team’s OTA at Gillette Stadium. Credit: Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Beyond Jalen Mills, the depth chart at boundary cornerback for the Patriots remains uncertain. Will anything get cleared up Friday night?
Early on, it looked like Terrance Mitchell was the favorite to line up opposite Mills on the outside. However, the Patriots started putting Jonathan Jones – usually the starting slot corner – in that spot this week. That saw mixed results, as he battled with star Panthers’ receiver D.J. Moore.
It will be interesting to see if Jones plays on the boundary Friday night, and if so how he looks. The Panthers aren’t expected to play there starters, so he should have an easier matchup.
If Jones does end up playing more on the boundary, that would open up a battle for the slot position. Rookie Marcus Jones looks like the favorite there, but Myles Bryant had a strong week of camp. There’s also Shaun Wade, who offers inside-outside versatility and also had a few highlight moments this week.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.