New England Patriots: 5 Things to Watch in Preseason Week 2 vs. Buccaneers

A Number of Storylines Bear Watching in the Pats' Next Game

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The New England Patriots are gearing up for their second game of the preseason schedule, which takes place in Foxboro against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As the team continues to sort out its roster and strategize for the upcoming season, there are a number of things to keep an eye on in this game.

Here are five things to watch for in the Patriots' preseason Week 2 game:

Will there be any commanding performances by the backup quarterbacks? New England held its collective breath when star quarterback Tom Brady fell to the ground earlier in the week in practice, clutching his knee in obvious pain. Fortunately, reports quickly surfaced that he had suffered just a sprain. While he is expected to play against Tampa Bay, the Patriots could pump the brakes a bit and limit his snaps. If that happened, it could give backups Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow additional chances to show their stuff.

Mallet, a 2011 third-round pick out of Arkansas, has shown a powerful arm and questionable on-field decision-making during his brief chances. Any extra reps would be a chance to show he can command the New England offense and possibly be Brady's permanent successor in the future.

The left-handed Tebow has struggled during his first preseason with the Patriots. He needs to show consistency with his fundamentals and running the package of plays the team has introduced to take advantage of his skills as a mobile quarterback.

A strong showing against the Buccaneers by one or both of the backups would go a long way in giving the team confidence it has dependable talent behind Brady in the event he is ever seriously injured.

Which rookie wide receiver will edge ahead? The Patriots have been very fortunate in having three rookie receivers making big impressions this preseason. Aaron Dobson (second round), Josh Boyce (fourth round) and Kenbrell Thompkins (undrafted) have taken turns dazzling observers with their poised and effective play.

NESN.com's Doug Kyed wrote about how each of the three receivers have their own strengths and could all be major contributors to the New England offense this season.

All three played in the first preseason game against the Philadelphia Eagles, but Boyce is the only one of the trio who didn't record a catch. However, NESN.com's Luke Hughes reported he has really come on recently in practice.

There is still an available starting receiver position across from Danny Amendola, and if one of these youngsters separates themselves from the others, they could win a full-time job. Anything they can do in game conditions will only help their respective cases.

Will tight end Zach Sudfeld's dominance in practice translate into game production? One of the most pleasant surprises for the Patriots this season is the emergence of undrafted rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld.

The massive 6-foot-7-inch 24-year-old had just 47 total catches in his college career, and just two before his senior season. However, he has consistently impressed in camp. Despite his size, he is quick and has soft hands. His blocking remains a work in progress but isn't anything that would hold him back.

Sudfeld hauled in a 22-yard pass in the game against the Eagles. With starting tight end Rob Gronkowski out for an indeterminate amount of time, the rookie could grab plenty of playing time if he can prove he isn't just a practice warrior.

Can Brandon Bolden bounce back in competition with LeGarrette Blount? Bolden surprised many with his production as a reserve running back last year after signing with the team as an undrafted free agent. He had several big moments, including 137 rushing yards in a game against the Buffalo Bills, before being suspended for four games for PEDs, and ending his season on a down note.

Bolden hasn't done anything wrong this preseason, but he has to overcome Blount, who is a former 1,000-yard rusher (in 2011 with Tampa Bay) and completely outplayed him (101 rushing yards and two touchdowns to his 14 yards and no scores) against the Eagles.

At 250 pounds, Blount dwarfs the 220-pound Bolden. His superior size may be a dynamic the Patriots are looking for off their bench. Bolden contributes on special teams, so the battle between the two could be a close call.

A breakout performance against Tampa Bay could be just what Bolden needs to tighten the competition.

Will Duron Harmon continue his ascent? When the Patriots drafted the Rutgers safety in the third round of this year's, draft, many were left scratching their heads trying to figure out exactly who the heck he was. He was a relative unknown for most teams, but New England's connection to the school made it confident it was getting a steal. Given the way he has been standing out thus far, he may become a household name before long.

MassLive.com's Nick Underhill recently wrote about the impact the rookie is making in camp. His ability to play both safety spots has made him a valuable commodity in a defensive backfield that values diversity. He has also been effective enough to get some first-team snaps, which has alternately paired him with veterans Devin McCourty and Adrian Wilson.

Harmon played well against Philadelphia and is pressing second-year Tavon Wilson for playing time. He has gone from a likely project to a player who could provide an impact on the defensive side of the ball in 2013. He should get plenty of opportunities against the Buccaneers to continue proving he is no fluke.

Conclusion: New England is monitoring a lot of situations that have the potential to greatly impact its 2013 season. The matchup against the Buccaneers may be just the second game of the preseason, but it will be an excellent chance to gauge where these things stand.

In addition to the Yahoo! Contributor Network, Andrew Martin has written for Bleacher Report and a number of print publications and websites on the topics of history and sports. He also produces his own blog and has appeared on various sports talk shows and podcasts.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter @historianandrew.

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