Originally written on 60 Max Power O  |  Last updated 8/9/12

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots looks on in the first half against the Baltimore Ravens during the 2010 AFC wild-card playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

For Patriots fans it is finally here, players get to hit something for real and the races for roster spots will begin.  The New England Patriots will take to the field for the first time Thursday at home, while their opponents the  New Orleans Saints will play for the second time this preseason (after defeating the Arizona Cardinals 17-10 in the Hall of Fame game).

There will be plenty of storylines for this game, and here are a few to preview

  • Offensive line – This is the biggest concern on the team.  A group that protected QB Tom Brady fairly well (Brady was sacked 32 times, 13 most in the NFL in 2011), have three members from the starting unit out.  LT Matt Light has retired, LG  Logan Mankins still recovering from ACL surgery and RG Brian Waters sitting at home deciding if he wants to continue playing.  This leaves 2nd year players Nate Solder to replace Light, Marcus Cannon to replace Mankins, while Dan Koppen  will come back from last season ending IR to jump back into the C, most likely moving last year C Dan Connelly over to RG and often injured 4th year tackle Sebastian Vollmer to play LT.  If I was Brady, I would create eyes in the back of my helmet as these moves leave things a little uncertain and with unproven depth behind these starters.  The Patriots are hoping that other  players show some ability and create some depth.  This will be an area the team will watch the waiver wire on, as well as keep in touch with Waters.
  • Defensive line – Everyone is looking forward to seeing the new revamped front seven and how the youth movement of rookies DE Chandler Jones and ILB Dont’a Hightower will improve their ability to rush the quarterback and not allowing opposing QB time to pick apart the secondary
  • Devin McCourty – Which version do we get? 2010 All Pro or 2011 that got picked on any chance teams had. This will develop during the camp
  • Branch, Stallworth or Gaffney – I think this really comes down to Stallworth and Branch.  Whichever can contribute in more ways than one will win this as both are familiar with the system and Brady.  This would be better for the loser to be done by week two, allowing them to catch one with another team.
  • Back-up QB battle.  The team is hoping a battle between Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett begins allowing the team an opportunity to move one to another team.  My feeling is Hoyer has reached his ceiling here and would be bring the biggest value to another team.
  • Special teams- The team needs to find ways to improve the return game and avoid being backed up deep in their side of the field.  We know Brady can move the offense quickly and from everywhere, but this would make it easier and avoid him having to do it every time.
  • Injuries – They are going to happen, just make sure Brady, K Stephen Goskowski, P Zoltan Mesko avoid major contact.

The team has the easiest schedule during the regular season, so expectations of a 12-4, 13-3 or even a 14-2 season are not out of the discussion, but they need to figure out the offensive line and keep Brady safe.  As we found out in 2008 without him, the team went 11-5, but missed the playoffs.  The need to create an offensive line that will protect him.

Line them up and let’s play some football, even if it is pre-season.

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