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

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.

GET THE YARDBARKER APP:
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Top 10 takeaways from Super Bowl 50

Was firing Jeff Hornacek the wrong move for the Suns?

Panthers picked wrong day to play worst game of the season

Was Peyton Manning paid for Budweiser mentions?

Cam Newton walks out of postgame press conference

Eli did not look thrilled after Peyton locked up Super Bowl

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

Rick Reilly sends awkward tweet during Super Bowl 50

Peyton Manning gives Papa John a kiss after game

Panthers' Josh Norman crying after losing Super Bowl

Peyton Manning ‘going to drink a lot of Budweiser’ after win

Where Peyton Manning ranks among Super Bowl era QBs

Peyton Manning declines to comment on possible retirement

Winners and losers from Super Bowl 50

The best and worst commercials from Super Bowl 50

Aqib Talib wipes out on NFL Network

Six best plays from Super Bowl 50

Five biggest boneheaded plays of Super Bowl 50

WATCH: Cam Newton gives questionable effort to recover fumble

Lions say Calvin Johnson's future still not determined

How Louisville basketball bungled their self-imposed ban

Ted Ginn Jr. whiffs on football twice on one play, results in Panthers turnover

Kony Ealy makes one-handed interception of Peyton Manning

Mike Carey gets another call wrong on incomplete pass in SB

Steph Curry beats Panthers' "Keep Pounding" drum

Did Beyonce almost fall down during Super Bowl halftime show?

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.
the YARDBARKER app
Get it now!
Ios_download En_app_rgb_wo_45

The best and worst commercials from Super Bowl 50

Best and worst from Super Bowl 50

Six best plays from Super Bowl 50

Eli doesn't look thrilled as Peyton wins Super Bowl

Did Beyonce almost fall down during Super Bowl halftime show?

Curry to serve as drummer for Panthers

Report: Marshawn Lynch plans to retire

The 14 biggest plays in Super Bowl history

Five outrageous predictions for Super Bowl 50

QUIZ: Name the winning starting quarterback from every Super Bowl

Today's Best Stuff
For Publishers
Company Info
Help
Follow Yardbarker