COMMENTARY | Week 3 of the NFL preseason versus the Detroit Lions was anything but a "dress rehearsal" for the New England Patriots.
Despite the fact New England's first-teamers remained in the game until halftime, the end result was a 40-9 defeat and a long plane ride back to Massachusetts.
With that unconvincing effort in the rear-view, the Patriots will try to finish the exhibition schedule on a better note when the New York Giants come to town Aug. 29.
And, quite likely, the team will try to do so with the players who need to convince the most.
The preseason finale will be the venue for dozens of bubble players to prove their worth, seeing how the current 75-man roster will be whittled down to 53 men by the end of Aug. 31. So even though New England's tilt with the Giants won't mean much in the win column, it means everything for those trying to win jobs.
Here are five Patriots to watch for when the 7:30 p.m. battle gets underway:
Joe Vellano, Defensive Tackle
A former All-American at the University of Maryland, undrafted defensive tackle Joe Vellano has a chance to validate himself as an NFL-caliber defensive lineman against the Giants. With fellow undrafted rookie Cory Grissom now on injured reserve, Vellano -- who started in place of Vince Wilfork last week -- finds himself in clearer pasture, vying to be New England's fourth defensive tackle.
Now, the Patriots may opt to only keep three at the position, and the waiver wire will be busy as in the coming days. But the 6-foot, 300-pounder could leave head coach Bill Belichick with some food for thought if he stands out in Week 4 of the preseason. According to the premium statistics provided by Pro Football Focus, the 24-year-old's run defense and pass rush rank him second and third on the Patriots, respectively.
Jake Bequette, Defensive End
Defensive end Jake Bequette, who played in three games but failed to record a tackle as a rookie, is no guarantee to make the team as a "sophomore." The 90th overall pick in last year's draft hasn't done enough this preseason to assure a role for himself. At this juncture in the schedule, the 6-5, 265-pound Arkansas product has made five tackles and missed three. But what's most concerning is that the 24-year-old hasn't been able to create significant pressure.
The Giants game could be a final audition for Bequette. Is he worth retaining over the likes of Justin Francis, Marcus Benard, Michael Buchanan and the recuperating Jermaine Cunningham? When his high-draft status is ignored, it's hard to say he is. Keep an eye on how the Razorback performs off the edge of New England's defense this Thursday.
Ras-I Dowling, Cornerback
Cornerback Ras-I Dowling is not only vying to stay on the Patriots but he's also vying to stay healthy. Hip and quadriceps injuries have limited the 33rd overall pick in the 2011 draft to just nine games over his first two professional campaigns. And after a strong start in practices this spring, his track record reared its head once again. The 6-1 215-pound 25-year-old has yet to play in a preseason game this summer, but he has returned as a full participant in practice and is expected to be suited up versus New York.
It's never been about potential with Dowling -- there's plenty of it. He's got the physical nature and size to be an outside presence in New England's secondary. But his ailments have prohibited him from running on all cylinders at the NFL level. Expect Dowling to log a lot of reps opposite Giants wide receivers. His performance will be monitored closely.
Brandon Bolden, Running Back
Brandon Bolden showed enough to make the Patriots as an undrafted running back out of Ole Miss in 2012. The 5-11, 220-pound rusher played in 10 contests, rushed for 274 yards, two touchdowns and added two catches for 11 yards. Nevertheless, with a new year brings new expectations -- and competition. This offseason, the Patriots acquired Pro-Bowl return man Leon Washington and one-time 1,000-yard back LeGarrette Blount to fill out the depth chart.
The Patriots might be compelled to keep five halfbacks if Washington, Blount and Bolden are all deserving. If not, four will be the magic number. Like Washington, Bolden carries special-teams value, while Blount does not. Although from an offensive standpoint this preseason, Blount has led the three backs with 137 rushing yards and two scores. In contrast, Bolden has totaled 58 rushing yards, also fumbling the ball on a catch inside the 15-yard line. Trust is pivotal. And Bolden will have to regain it versus the Giants.
Tim Tebow, Quarterback
The well-documented courtship between the Patriots and quarterback Tim Tebow is reaching a fever pitch. And to this point in the preseason, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels' former first-round draft pick has struggled to acclimate. Through the first two trial runs, the mobile QB accumulated five completions on 19 pass attempts for 54 yards, an interception and three sacks, while managing 61 rushing yards on 10 attempts. He did not register a snap versus Detroit.
Tebow's utilization and overall importance to the 2013 Patriots has been discussed at length. But the biggest question remains: Has the former Heisman winner shown enough to earn a spot on New England's 53? Whether it's been a lack of accuracy, a lack of arm strength or a lack of trust in his reads, the offense has been unable to consistently move the chains when Tebow has entered the game.
The jury may still be out, although the need for an extra offensive lineman, defensive end, defensive back or special-teamer all appear more pressing than the need for a No. 3 quarterback. The Giants game will be Tebow's opportunity to demonstrate otherwise.
Oliver Thomas is a Yahoo! contributor who also covers the NFL and the New England Patriots for NEPatriotsDraft.com. His work has been featured on BleacherReport.com, USAToday.com, Patriots.com, Boston.com and NESN.com.
You can follow Oliver on Twitter @OliverBThomas.
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