Perry: Defensive job-hunters get their chance
FOXBORO -- You don't need me to tell you it might be a good idea to keep a close eye on Patriots backup quarterbacks tonight when they take on the Jaguars for their preseason opener. How Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett perform will monopolize headlines and will probably lead our show immediately after the game.
But here's the thing: If you wanted to get a good gauge of what the Patriots can do offensively against Jacksonville, you already missed your chance. The joint practices on Monday and Tuesday provided a much more accurate representation of what this team can do with all of its firepower. Tom Brady was sharp. Rob Gronkowski looked like he couldn't be covered. Brandin Cooks was submitting explosive plays regularly. Don't expect to see those guys doing anything competitive tonight. Instead, expect a host of names you're unfamiliar with to be taking handoffs and running routes. Receivers Devin Lucien, KJ Maye, Tony Washington and running back LeShun Daniels -- all of whom face long odds to make the final roster given the depth the Patriots have at those positions -- should all see heavy workloads.
Defensively, though? That's where things could get interesting for the Patriots. There are roles seemingly up for grabs. There are young, unheralded players apparently competing for those roles. Those are the guys you should be watching.
Here are some quick-hitting notes on five . . .
DEATRICH WISE, DE
It's not an exaggeration to say the rookie fourth-round pick out of Arkansas has been among New England's best defensive linemen in camp. His length is reminiscent of Chandler Jones, and though he may not be in quite the same class as Jones athletically, he's proven to be a strong player at the point of attack with a good motor who can get into in the backfield in sub situations. He's not the Rob Ninkovich replacement the Patriots are looking for -- he's more of an end/tackle hybrid than an end/linebacker -- but he seems to be on track for a real role up front.
KENNY MOORE, CB
Dating back to the spring, Moore has consistently shown up with a play or two almost every practice where he gets his hands on the football. Whether it's one-on-ones, seven-on-sevens or 11-on-11s, Moore has shown a knack for pass breakups. Unfortunately for Moore it's a deep cornerback group in New England, so in order for him to make the club he'll likely have to pop on special teams. (Remember last season when the Patriots kept special teamed Jonathan Jones over preseason PBU artist Cre'Von LeBlanc?) Moore's getting his chances there as a gunner on the punt team and a vice on the punt-return team. With Matthew Slater missing practice time, there's been openings on those units, and Moore has been one of the first to have a crack at filling them.
ADAM BUTLER, DT
The Vanderbilt product has shown very good quickness during one-on-one periods since the start of camp, and his coaches have seemingly loaded more onto his plate with each passing practice. He's been used as an interior rusher in sub situations, but he's also been seen taking reps in the middle of the defensive line during goal-line periods. An unheralded undrafted rookie, he has been among the team's notable early risers in camp. As for his special-teams contribution? He's been seen on the kick-return team of late.
HARVEY LANGI, LB
The Patriots have gone to great lengths to see what Langi is capable of when surrounded by legitimate starting-caliber talent. He's played on the left edge, Ninkovich's old spot, as much as anyone lately -- possibly because Shea McClellin has missed practice time recently. The results have been mixed, and Langi admits that at times the amount of information he's trying to process has been overwhelming. But he's certainly an athlete, as proven by some of the one-on-one pass-rush reps he's received recently. Langi has also been used on the top kickoff unit, which is a positive sign for how he's seen by the coaching staff. He'll likely need to have a legitimate role on "teams" in order to land a spot on the 53-man roster.
DEREK RIVERS, LB
Bill Belichick admitted on Wednesday that the Patriots are taking a bit of a "trial and error" approach with their third-round pick. He's played on the end and off the line. He's rushed the passer and covered backs out of the backfield. He's even been used as a stand-up rusher over the center from time to time. His athleticism is intriguing and it will be fascinating to see how he's deployed in a game situation.