Five positional battles to watch tonight
FIVE POSITION BATTLES TO WATCH TONIGHT
Bill Belichick likes the word "mosaic." It comes up all the time in his question-and-answer sessions with reporters in part because of its efficiency. In three syllables, he conveys the message, "There's a lot that goes into this particular topic, and probably more than we have time for."
For example, if asked what players can do to help themselves make the 53-man roster during training camp, Belichick could go on and on about special teams participation, study habits, weight-room effort, durability and a dozen or more other qualities. Yet, "it's a whole mosaic" might suffice.
Sticking with that example, preseason game performance would also factor in as part Belichick's big picture. It's not the only thing that will determine who gets a job and who doesn't when cuts are made, but it's one element of a complicated equation.
With that in mind, here are five positional battles that could be impacted in some way during Thursday night's matchup between the Patriots and the Bears.
Patriots pass-catchers are hurting. Danny Amendola is still on the physically-unable-to-perform list and will not play against the Bears. Julian Edelman just recently worked his way back to full participation after aggravating his foot in camp, and it would come as no surprise if he was held out. Keshawn Martin hasn't been a full participant in practice recently and likely will miss preseason game No. 2 as well. Then there's rookie Malcolm Mitchell, who dislocated his elbow last week against the Saints and isn't expected to be a go against Chicago. That should leave plenty of reps for wideouts like Aaron Dobson, Nate Washington, DeAndre Carter, Chris Harper and Devin Lucien. Washington (left) had his best week of practice this week and could provide a reliable veteran presence to the New England receiving corps if he can fully grasp the offense. We'll see if anyone in this group can create some separation from the pack tonight.
David Andrews (left) appears to have taken the lead in this race for the No. 1 center spot. The second-year player out of Georgia had a strong rookie season with the Patriots, playing every snap through nine games last year and helping the team go undefeated in that stretch. He's only built on that, Belichick said recently, and he has been the first center on the field snapping to Jimmy Garoppolo in recent weeks. Bryan Stork can't be far behind, as he and Andrews split first-team reps through the spring and early part of camp, but he has two things working against him: He has durability concerns and recently missed a week of practice due to a reported head injury, and his emotions sometimes get the best of him. He was kicked out of Tuesday's practice with the Bears for throwing a punch, and it will be interesting to see if Belichick and offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia trust Stork in crucial situations when there is a capable option in Andrews available to them.
Cre'Von LeBlanc (left) made what Belichick called a "special" play against the Saints last week. Can he follow that up with another sound performance? Or will it be fellow undrafted rookie Jonathan Jones, who had a good preseason debut as well and has stood out in practice, who seizes the spotlight. Don't forget about Darryl Roberts, who flashed last summer in the preseason as a rookie. He hasn't been impressive this time around, but he's a talented athlete with the physical skills to get his hands on the football. There may only be one roster spot available for one of these three at the end of camp.
In our latest 53-man roster projection, we had the Patriots keeping five running backs. That number could drop to four if Dion Lewis were to begin the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list. If it doesn't, five seems like a lot. In order to reduce their numbers there, the team may have to make a decision between its big backs, LeGarrette Blount and Tyler Gaffney (left). Blount still seems to be the leader here based on his track record, but Gaffney has seen a lot of work in practices, and he had a long touchdown run against the Saints. If Gaffney can show an ability to consistently pick up positive yardage and create some yards on his own -- as Blount has been able to do once he hits the second level -- he could make life hard on Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio when cut-down day comes around.
Josh Kline (67 at left) was arguably the best offensive linemen the Patriots had through the early part of last season until he suffered a shoulder injury against the Eagles in Week 13. Now that it appears rookie Joe Thuney has a firm grasp on the left-tackle gig, Kline is competing for snaps at right guard against Shaq Mason. One of the most athletic guards Belichick has ever had, Mason appears to be in the driver's seat for the job, but Kline provides good depth at all three interior positions and could give the second-year player out of Georgia Tech a run for the role with a standout performance against the Bears.