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What to watch for in Friday’s preseason contest between Patriots and Eagles

08.15.14 at 8:00 am ET
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Here are seven things we’€™ll be looking for Friday night when the Patriots meet the Eagles in the second preseason game for both teams:

How much Tom Brady plays.

Brady didn’€™t play in the preseason opener against the Redskins, but that was after what appeared to be a pretty crisp week of work in Washington. This time around, based on what we saw at practice this week, Brady will likely play. We wrote about this earlier in the week, but here’€™s a look at what he’€™s been able to do in the second preseason contest of the summer over the last six years, with last year’€™s ultra-efficient performance against Tampa Bay being the high point.

2008: DNP
2009: 4-for-8 for 57 yards in 13 snaps vs. Bengals
2010: 10-for-12 for 85 yards, 1 TD in 24 snaps vs. Falcons
2011: 11-for-19 for 118 yards, 2 TDs in 25 snaps vs. Bucs
2012: DNP
2013: 11-for-12 for 107 yards, 1 TD in 23 snaps vs. Bucs

Flags.

The officials were at practice this week and tossed plenty of flags as the wide receivers and defensive backs continued to get used to what they can and can’€™t do when it comes to the new points of emphasis regarding pass defense. While there won’€™t likely be the 25 flags we saw in last week’€™s Denver-Seattle game, expect a similar type of contest as the Patriots had last week against the Redskins, when 19 penalties were called.

Who gets the reps at linebacker?

Given the fact that we didn’€™t see much of Jerod Mayo and James Anderson over the course of the week (Mayo didn’€™t practice at all in the three joint sessions with the Eagles, while Anderson has been in and out of practice much of the week) could lead to some interesting linebacker combinations for the Patriots on Friday. Given the fact that both are considered inside or middle linebacker types, it could set up as a good opportunity for youngsters like Steve Beauharnais and Darius Fleming to get some quality reps with a reasonable facsimile of the No. 1 defense. If Mayo does not play, it’€™ll also give some others a chance to get some experience with the green dot on their helmet. (Provided Dont’€™a Hightower gets the start, expect him to have the communication system in his helmet from the jump, with others like Beauharnais filling in as the game goes on.)

How much does each backup quarterbacks play?

There was a lot of drama last week about Ryan Mallett‘€™s struggles and Jimmy Garoppolo‘€™s professional debut, and that should continue into this week against the Eagles. Provided Brady starts, he should get the bulk of the reps in the first quarter, but the rest of the contest should be handed over to the backups. While Mallett spent a portion of last Thursday’€™s game against the Redskins going up against Washington’€™s No. 1 defense, that could be a little different this time around. (If he enters in relief of Brady on Friday, he’€™ll likely face more of the No. 2’€™s and No. 3’€™s.) It’€™s important to remember that Mallett missed practice on Tuesday and Wednesday with what he called ‘€œmaintenance days.’€ It’€™ll be interesting to see if that causes a dip in his reps Friday, as Garoppolo got the bulk of his reps over the course of the week. Meanwhile, we’€™re all looking forward to the latest chapter of Garoppolo-to-Brian Tyms, which has become the feel-good hit of the summer in Foxboro.

Rob Gronkowski and the tight end position.

Gronkowski is taking it slow when it comes to his rehab, but it certainly appears that he’€™s been able to hit all of the guideposts along the way when it comes to his return. However, while the big tight end was in pads with the rest of his teammates when the Eagles came to town this week, he didn’€™t jump in and take part in any of the 11-on-11 work. From this perspective, it likely means another preseason game on the sidelines for Gronkowski. If he doesn’€™t play however, it will be interesting to see who gets the majority of the snaps at tight end. Because of a recent flurry of moves (including the decision to release veteran Ben Hartsock on Thursday), as well as some injuries to players like D.J. Williams, New England enters Friday game with just one healthy tight end in Steve Maneri. However, expect fullback James Develin to get some snaps at tight end — he’€™s spent a lot of his summer working out with the tight ends as opposed to the running backs, and his skill set suggests he’€™d be able to see some time there over the course of the season.

The running game.

Last week against the Redskins, Shane Vereen had five snaps, Stevan Ridley had three snaps, and Brandon Bolden didn’€™t play at all. In truth, none of the running backs saw much time — Jonas Gray (19 snaps) and Roy Finch (17 snaps) were the only two running backs to finish in double digits when it came to snaps played as the Patriots finished with just 63 yards on the ground. Some of that was due to the fact that New England was shifting personnel along the offensive line (and went with plenty of backups along the way), and some of it was due to the overall ineffectiveness of the Patriots’€™ back to hit the holes. This time around, expect more of an emphasis on seeing what the ground game can do.

Can the rookies make the most of their opportunities?

Garoppolo and cornerback Malcolm Butler both had mostly positive preseason debuts, and will look to build on those performances in their second outing of the summer. While center Bryan Stork will likely sit because he’€™s been missing from practice all week, fellow offensive linemen Jon Halapio and Cameron Fleming will get some quality snaps against the Eagles and look to impress the coaches. In addition, Finch had some struggles against the Redskins, and could use a bounce back against Philly, while running back James White, defensive back Jemea Thomas and defensive lineman Zach Moore will also get a shot to make their mark in live game action. With the first round of cuts looming in less than two weeks — and the third preseason game usually the exclusive domain of the starters and other veterans — this could be the latest chance for some of the rookies when it comes to proving themselves in game action. (While he was on the practice field in pads for the first time this summer this past week, it would be a surprise to see first-round pick Dominique Easley on the field, as the defensive linemen still appeared to be limited in what he could and couldn’€™t do.)

Read More: 2014 training camp,
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