Five Patriots you'll be talking about after preseason game vs. Titans
There's already been a bit of shakeup on the Patriots roster since the last time we saw them go at it with the Lions in their preseason opener. The bottom of the receiver depth chart has been turned over with the departure of Danny Etling, and a handful of names at the top — N'Keal Harry, Phillip Dorsett and Maurice Harris — are dealing with physical ailments.
The offensive line has seen a part-time addition emerge to see significant reps; Isaiah Wynn hasn't taken every fully-padded rep with the first team but he has taken some. That's a marked improvement since he spent a week of practices in Detroit as a spectator. Even the picture at along the defensive line has seen some change as we've seen Danny Shelton get reps over Mike Pennel on the nose. Is that a way of giving Pennel some rest, or is that Shelton emerging in his second year with the Patriots after signing a modest deal to stay with the team this offseason?
There's plenty worth watching as far as different positional battles go, but here are five players you're going to be talking about once the clock strikes zero in Nashville on Saturday night.
This one is easy. If the rookie quarterback can come close to replicating the performance he put together in Detroit then the Patriots may have to consider freeing up a roster spot by cutting ties with Brian Hoyer and carrying only two quarterbacks for the regular season. He showed a little bit of everything against the Lions: He was accurate under pressure; he showed good touch on his deep attempts; he picked up yardage with his legs; he threw well on the run; he showed situational awareness in the two-minute drill; he worked out of the huddle and under center after doing neither in college; and he had plenty of time to sit in the pocket and show off his arm strength. The Titans may not be as generous with their pass-rush — or lack thereof — so it'll be fascinating to see if Stidham can pick apart a defense that provides a little more resistance.
With Wynn limited, Skipper has been the beneficiary of the resulting available workload. He's consistently worked with the first team throughout camp, only ceding snaps to Wynn this week, and he played 42 plays as the starting left tackle in the preseason opener. Though Skipper has struggled at times in one-on-one pass protection drills since the Patriots introduced pads this summer, he was solid against the Lions, allowing just one pressure in 24 pass-blocking reps. As a practice-squad player on three different teams the last few seasons — the Patriots picked him up at the end of last season — Skipper certainly isn't guaranteed a roster spot come September. But if he can stand up to the Titans defense on Saturday, then he could be in line to make the club as a swing tackle if Wynn is healthy enough to play Week 1. Skipper has had a hard time in the heat this week, according to our Tom E. Curran, so he'll have to make the most of an off-day Friday to give himself a shot to perform well in the game.
My contention is that Berrios has a skill set that should, at this point, land him on the Patriots roster. The team clearly wanted help at the slot receiver position this offseason. They didn't get it. Now the door is open for Berrios, who could help make life a little easier on Julian Edelman by running routes over the middle and fielding punts. (Edelman, who has the ability to work outside as well as inside, might make it through the season a little easier if he absorbs fewer big hits in the middle of the field and in the kicking game.) Berrios looked good last week in Detroit both as a receiver and a returner, but he'll need to continue to string together positive days in order to win himself a roster spot. Saturday could be big for him — particularly with so many receivers banged up. He should have a busy night. If he doesn't, then maybe that will be a case of the team realizing his value and keeping him out of harm's way while the rest of the position group heals up. Other receivers worth watching Saturday: veteran Dontrelle Inman and undrafted rookie Gunner Olszewski.
After one particularly bad moment against the Lions in his first game as a pro — a bad angle in the run game was followed by an unnecessary roughness penalty and the Lions picked up 32 yards — Williams has answered with a few strong days of practice. On Monday he picked off a couple of passes and deflected another. On Thursday, he broke up a pass in the end zone to one of Tennessee's best receivers, Corey Davis. The second-round pick seems to be trending in the right direction, and the Nashville native will have a chance to show just how much progress he's made in front of his hometown Saturday.
The rookie fifth-rounder has been one of the quiet surprises of camp. He missed some practice time early on, but came back quickly and has shown up with some good power at the line of scrimmage. He had two run-stuffs in 11-on-11 work during a practice against the Lions last week. He's battled rookie Hjalte Froholdt, someone assumed to make the team, and come away with his share of victories. He made a goal-line stop earlier in camp on the fields behind Gillette Stadium, and he was one of the team's best defenders against the Lions at Ford Field. In the preseason opener, the Maryland product — who as a high schooler was one of the most sought-after players in the country — was in on a sack, he hurried the quarterback on another play, and he notched a stuff in the running game. He looks well-suited to the 3-4 scheme the Patriots will deploy in 2019, and he could be a surprise addition to the roster for Week 1. It's a deep group up front, but the Patriots might have to keep him on the active roster if they want to continue working with him. If he continues to play well in preseason games, odds are he won't sneak through waivers and land on New England's practice squad.