NBC Sports

Curran: What to key on in Thursday night's preseason opener

NBC Sports

Here’s 44 lines on 22 things you wanna keep your peepers on Thursday night as the Patriots take on Football Team in their preseason opener.

Am I appropriating an idea from my friend Jeff Howe over at The Athletic? Kinda sorta a little. He’ll drop these voluminous lists of things to watch that are always a good read

But not completely. We’ve trod upon the quick-hit road before and for a preseason game like this one, it’s a beauty way to go. So let’s get after it.

You’ve been deluged with Mac Jones play-by-play since July 28 but you want to see it for yourself. Don’t get too hung up on "complete or incomplete," though ... keep an eye on how the plays look as far as timing and execution.

When Jones throws, watch how he moves through progressions. He’s been rapid in practice when deciding if the first read is there or not and then skipping on to the next and the next and that’s a measure of his decisiveness.


Expect Jones to get a massive workload. The Patriots have heaped his plate high with information, reps and responsibility since minicamp and he’s cleaned that plate most days ... this is the next step.

There will be parts of this game that will be more important than anything we’ve seen in the first dozen practices when it comes to Jones. But the joint practices next week with the Eagles will be even more important than this game because the Patriots and Eagles can orchestrate down, distance and field position situations in a practice atmosphere that they really need to see.

Patriots Talk Podcast: Has Cam Newton fallen off enough to give Mac Jones a shot? | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Jones and Kendrick Bourne have had very nice chemistry in camp and I’m looking forward to seeing whether that carries into a game. Bourne has a very Malcolm Mitchell feel to his game and you’ll enjoy seeing him work between the numbers and on the boundaries on the intermediate stuff.

I’d certainly expect Cam Newton to start the game and get the first couple of series at least. But seeing whether Cam can operate in a preseason game against vanilla defense in his 11th season is less important than getting Jones as many reps as possible against an NFL defense in game situations.

Isaiah Wynn has had a very good camp so far. Key in on him while he’s in there and keep the digits crossed that he’s had a change of luck and rolls healthily along throughout the preseason.

Curran: Jakobi Meyers reflects on Tom Brady's "tough love"

You’re gonna like Sony Michel’s burst now that he appears fully healthy and holes are being opened in front of him. He’s going to be a part of this team’s attack this year and isn’t going anywhere.

Remember N’Keal Harry’s first preseason game against the Lions in 2018 when he made two terrific plays on the first drive, turned an ankle and was out until November? He’s looked like the guy who made those two terrific plays day in and day out at camp.

If he doesn’t get a ball his way or is targeted and doesn’t come up with it, don’t be thinking that undoes the positive vibe he’s created so far. As with Jones, the important days for him are the joint practices with the Eagles and Giants where the competition is turned up and consistent for two hours straight over four days of practices.


Don’t expect the Patriots to get too ornate with where they put Jonnu Smith in the formation because they’ll save that for the regular season. But defenses may need a tracking device to keep up with where he goes when the games truly begin.

Look for the second half to be run-game heavy. With that in mind, expect plenty of carries for rookie Rhamondre Stevenson and second-year mini-back J.J. Taylor.

Josh Uche has been staring in the earhole of quarterbacks he can’t hit throughout practices since June. Will he get to the quarterback with as much ease against Washington and will he be able to finish those plays?

Christian Barmore, Henry Anderson, Carl Davis, Lawrence Guy and Davon Godchaux are significant beef along the Patriots defensive line. That’s one of the many areas that could have a night-and-day improvement over the 2020 crew.

I haven’t even mentioned Matt Judon yet. Like the guys I mentioned on the defensive line and Uche, he has been a high-motor eye-catcher in practices and is worth keying on when he’s out there in terms of where he lines up and how much impact he makes.

Joejuan Williams, the second-round pick from 2019, is nobody’s idea of a sticky corner. He’s long and strong and suited for short spaces rather than outside coverage it seems so keep an eye on whether or not he can stay competitive with wideouts if he gets in 1-on-1 situations.

Jalen Mills is the starting corner opposite J.C. Jackson until the Patriots get their Gilmore House in order. He’s been a work-in-progress during practices so I anticipate him getting plenty of time on the field to keep the acclimation going.

You know who wants to be starting something? It’s Michael Jackson, cornerback, and he has had a few flash plays so far, so look for him as well.

Curran: N'Keal Harry keeps stacking positive practices

Adrian Phillips, Devin McCourty and Kyle Dugger are a very, very good safety crew with complementary skills. Keep an eye on Dugger when he’s out there as the Patriots are scooting him all around the defense to take advantage of his versatility.


After an injury this week to long-snapper Joe Cardona, the Patriots signed Brian Khoury to fill in. Monitor the kicking game for any signs of slippage when Khoury’s out there.

Quinn Nordin will be front-and-center as the kicker. Nick Folk -- who just drills it down the middle every time -- has been down with an injury so Nordin has a shot at creeping into Folk’s spot if he can prove to be as consistent in a game as he’s been in recent practices.

Remember, we do not want overtime in the preseason. Cheer for two-point conversions and/or mixed extra points accordingly.