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What to watch for Friday: Snap counts and rookie receivers

08.08.13 at 11:51 pm ET
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Here are eight things we’€™ll be watching for Friday when the Patriots meet the Eagles in the preseason opener for both teams:

1. Tom Brady and his snap count: This is probably one of the more overhyped storylines this time of year, but there could be something telling in the number of snaps he takes in the preseason opener for a few reasons, not the least of which includes the fact that he’€™s going to be throwing to (almost) a whole new group of receivers. If he does play, it shouldn’€™t be more than two series — anything less would be putting the quarterback in harm’€™s way. For what it’€™s worth, the last five years, he’€™s played in three preseason openers. He didn’€™t play at all in the first preseason game in 2008 and 2011. Last year, we had him at 19 total snaps in the win over the Saints. He also played 14 snaps in 2010 and 24 in 2009.

Just for fun, I took a look back at my notes, and here are some snap counts from the 2012 preseason opener against the Saints, including penalties: Brady: 19, Brian Hoyer: 13, Ryan Mallett: 27, Stevan Ridley: 17, Danny Woodhead: 17, Shane Vereen: 26, Brandon Bolden: 17, Chandler Jones: 27, Dont’€™a Hightower: 37, Ras-I Dowling: 46, Tavon Wilson: 43.

2. Aaron Dobson and the rest of the rookie receivers: The whole host of young receivers — Dobson, Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins — have looked good to this point in the summer. While there have been plenty of rookie moments, there’€™s also been a lot of good along the way as they have been force-fed the New England passing game. It’€™s one thing to look good in practice. How does all of that translate to game action? They will likely see plenty of reps over the course of the evening, and we should have a pretty good idea as to where they stand by the end of the night.

3. LeGarrette Blount: The veteran running back hasn’€™t really shown up on the radar much if at all over the course of camp. (It’€™s not altogether his fault — part of that is because the Patriots haven’€™t done a lot of full-contact, full-go work to this point, and Blount’€™s strengths are more smash mouth than finesse football.) Things are pretty fluid, but along with Bolden, Blount is currently in the mix to serve as Ridley’€™s backup, and if he gets some significant reps on Friday night, it would serve as a good indication as to where he is in the New England system.

4. Zach Sudfeld: Like the rookie receivers, Sudfeld has looked good to this point in camp, but we’€™ll know more about where he is when he’€™s tested by game action — when he has to block a defensive end, or goes against a coverage linebacker at the NFL level. Can he make the leap from practice player to game-ready rookie? Friday will give us the first real indication if he’€™s ready to contribute as a professional.

5. Jamie Collins: The linebacker has been moved around A LOT over the course of the first two-plus weeks of camp, doing some rushing and dropping into coverage against running backs and tight ends. One thing we do know is that he’€™s probably a little too light to play in the middle or inside. Other than that, Friday should give us some idea as to how they plan to utilize Collins, at least at the start of his career.

6. Right guard: To this point in camp, Dan Connolly has been on the field but hasn’€™t done much of anything, while Marcus Cannon has been slowed by injury. It’€™s been a rotating series at right guard in their place — the Patriots even went so far as to use Will Svitek — who was expected to be the backup swing tackle — at right guard earlier this week. At this point, it figures to be Svitek on Friday, but we’€™ll be keeping a close eye on who will serve as the placeholder after Svitek departs,

7. Tim Tebow and Ryan Mallett: Admit it — even if you’€™re not particularly find of Tebow, there’€™s a gruesome fascination in seeing what he’€™ll be able to do (and won’€™t be able to do) when he gets out on the field Friday night. And that’€™s not just as a backup quarterback — he’€™s worked a little here and there as part of the scout team. It wouldn’€™t be a complete surprise to see Bill Belichick try and do some unique things with Tebow Friday against the Eagles. As for Mallett, it’€™s another opportunity to showcase the backup quarterback and see how much progression he’€™s made over the course of the offseason.

8. Special teams: The Zoltan Mesko/Ryan Allen camp battle is sneaky entertaining. Our guess is that Mesko has the edge (and that Allen will land on the practice squad), but this is another reason to keep an eye on the game late into the second half. If Allen — the Ray Guy Award Winner for best punter in college football last year — can make his case and put some heat on Mesko, it could force the Patriots to make a decision. In addition, the return game bears some watching, as it will be the first chance for Leon Washington to show if he can be the one who brings some consistency to the kick return spot — the Patriots averaged just 21.2 yards per kickoff return last season (25th in the NFL) while Washington was second among returners with a 29.0 yard average as a member of the Seahawks.

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