Five things to watch in the Patriots' preseason opener vs. the New York Giants on Thursday

·5 min read

After 11 days of training camp, the Patriots will finally get a chance to hit somebody else.

Thursday night marks the team’s preseason opener as the Pats take on the New York Giants at 7 at Gillette Stadium. After practicing against each other all offseason, the Patriots will show a glimpse of what will come this fall.

Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne catches a pass during the team's training camp last week in Foxboro. The Patriots open the preseason Thursday night against the Giants.
Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne catches a pass during the team's training camp last week in Foxboro. The Patriots open the preseason Thursday night against the Giants.

The preseason is merely a prelude to "real" football. Head coach Bill Belichick explained this week that the Patriots won’t game plan against the Giants, who come to town with new head coach Brian Daboll.

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“There is no game planning in the preseason,” Belichick said. “It's easy. Zero. I mean close to zero, not zero, but close to zero.”

The preseason is when bubble players earn roster spots. Preseason legends don’t always translate to regular-season success, but this time of year has created some solid feel-good stories. In 2014, Malcolm Butler shined as an undrafted free agent. Of course, that summer also saw receiver Brian Tyms stand out and earn a roster spot. Tyms went on to have minimal impact while Butler is back in New England and still in the NFL.

While starting quarterback Mac Jones isn’t expected to play for the Patriots on Thursday night, there’s still plenty to look for in this exhibition game.

Here are five things to monitor:

Matt Patricia coaches quarterback Mac Jones during a Patriots training camp practice at Gillette Stadium on July 30. The Patriots open the preseason Thursday night by hosting the Giants.
Matt Patricia coaches quarterback Mac Jones during a Patriots training camp practice at Gillette Stadium on July 30. The Patriots open the preseason Thursday night by hosting the Giants.

Offensive changes

It would be great to see Jones at quarterback and how he looks in the Patriots' new offense. Though he is likely to sit this game out, one of the most important story lines revolves around this group.

Who will call offensive plays?

That should be clarified Thursday night. The smart money is on Matt Patricia, who has performed that task more than Joe Judge this summer. Belichick could also factor into this equation.

With a new play caller, will the Patriots run new offensive plays? They’ve sprinkled in a new system this summer and it’s been hard for the players on offense to get on the same page. It’s not all different but the Pats do have new play calls. Will there be more success than what has been observed this summer?

Patriots wide receiver Tyquan Thornton runs through a drill during the team's organized team activities at Gillette Stadium in May.
Patriots wide receiver Tyquan Thornton runs through a drill during the team's organized team activities at Gillette Stadium in May.

Draft class standouts

We think we have an idea of which rookies will help the Patriots succeed this season. First-round pick Cole Strange will start at left guard. Third-round pick Marcus Jones could play immediately as a slot cornerback. Wide receiver Tyquan Thornton, a second-round pic, will make some splash plays.

That being said, we won’t really know until these first-year players suit up against the Giants.

Strange has been seen only sparingly in full-contact situations. Rookie cornerbacks Marcus Jones and Jack Jones have had solid moments with and without pads. Thornton has made several veteran cornerbacks look silly in 1-on-1 drills. The real test happens when they play against someone else in a game scenario.

Running back depth

The hardest thing to analyze in the offseason is the running back group. Even during full-contact practices, players aren’t really getting tackled. That makes it hard to decipher how a run by Damien Harris or Rhamondre Stevenson would really play out.

We have a good idea as to how Harris and Stevenson will be used. After that, it's anyone’s guess.

Thursday's game will demonstrate how Ty Montgomery, Kevin Harris, Pierre Strong and J.J. Taylor are doing. Maybe a few of them will stand out and we’ll get an idea as to how this depth chart will play out. Right now, it’s just a guessing game with running backs having it a bit easier in practice.

Alabama defensive lineman LaBryan Ray chases down Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker during their game on Oct. 23 in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama defensive lineman LaBryan Ray chases down Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker during their game on Oct. 23 in Tuscaloosa.

Under-the-radar standouts

The best part of the preseason is when a player you knew little about stands out. From the undrafted gems to the veteran you didn’t think would help, under-the-radar players could start to earn roster spots Thursday night.

The receiver position is one to monitor. Tre Nixon had an outstanding spring. He’s cooled a bit this summer but could have a major impact during the preseason.

Kristian Wilkerson had a two-touchdown game last season as a practice squad member. Veteran Lil’Jordan Humphrey has had a solid week at training camp. Will any of these players turn out to be preseason heroes?

It’s also worth monitoring undrafted free agents, such as defensive tackle LaBryan Ray, safety and special teamer Brenden Schooler and center Kody Russey. Ray has had a good summer. Schooler looks like the next core special-teams player. Russey could carve out a role as a top backup.

Patriots offensive lineman Cole Strange gets into a three-point stance during the team's organized team activities at Gillette Stadium in May.
Patriots offensive lineman Cole Strange gets into a three-point stance during the team's organized team activities at Gillette Stadium in May.

Offensive line play

The Patriots have undergone plenty of changes on their offensive line.

Strange is in at left guard, replacing Ted Karras. Michael Onwenu is expected to start at right guard, replacing Shaq Mason. Trent Brown has moved from right tackle to left tackle. Isaiah Wynn is at right tackle instead of left tackle. That leaves David Andrews as the only holdover from 2021.

The offensive line has not looked great this summer. The group has struggled in a new zone-blocking scheme in the run game. The pass protection also has left a lot to be desired. That being said, it’s hard to analyze because practice isn’t a real game. We’ll get a better sense on Thursday as to how this group looks.

Also, keep an eye on the right guard situation. The Pats have been rotating Onwenu in and out of the top lineup with Arlington Hambright and James Ferentz. When Wynn missed practice this week, Yodny Cajuste looked like the better replacement over Justin Herron.

This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Patriots vs. Giants preseason game: 5 things to watch for Pats