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What to watch for: Will we see Mac Jones and other Patriots starters against Panthers?

Patriots players to watch in preseason clash with Panthers
Patriots players to watch in preseason clash with Panthers 01:26

FOXBORO -- After sharing the practice field twice this week, which devolved into fisticuffs a number of times, the Patriots and the Panthers will look to settle their quarrels in an actual football game on Friday. 

Hopefully cooler heads will prevail when the two teams take the field for preseason game No. 2 at Gillette Stadium. And maybe, just maybe, we'll get to see some Patriots starters this time around after they sat out last week's exhibition opener against the Giants.

Here's what we'll be watching for when the Patriots take the field for another preseason tune-up.

Mac and Company

We didn't see Mac Jones or the majority of the offensive starters last week against the Giants. It'd be nice to kick off our weekend with a little glimpse of what the Patriots will have to offer on that side of the ball.

Bill Belichick was obviously tight-lipped about his plans for Friday's preseason game, and all Mac would say is that he'll "hopefully" play. Carolina head coach Matt Rhule, however, said that he expects to see New England's starters.

Update: Mac and Co. are expected to play Friday night.

If that's the case, we'll be watching for Mac and and other starters to build off a solid week of joint practices (when the two teams weren't fighting) where the QB threw some nice passes to DeVante Parker and Nelson Agholor. Both receivers have been impressive in camp, so let's see what they can do with Mac in some game action. It would be great to see some chemistry on display between Mac and his top two receivers. Kendrick Bourne hasn't done much this preseason, so he too could use a good game on Friday night.

And after his impressive debut against the Giants, let's see what rookie Tyquan Thornton can do with Jones throwing him the ball. Maybe even Jonnu Smith will get involved in the fun, with Hunter Henry currently dealing with a minor injury. (Keep him out of the preseason, please.)

With more joint practices on tap next week with the Raiders, don't expect the starters to play too much. But even a brief cameo would be a welcome sight.

Run Game

The struggles of the New England offensive line have been well documented this summer. Mac has had to run for his life at times (even though he can't get hit at the moment), but more noticeable is that Patriots running backs haven't been able to gain much traction on the ground.

Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson did not play last week, but J.J. Taylor, Pierre Strong, and Kevin Harris only mustered 52 yards on the ground on their 18 rush attempts. Yuck.

The offensive line will be a work in progress for a while, but it would be nice to see them open up some holes for the guys in the backfield on Friday night.

Speedy Linebackers

One of the most promising takeaways from last week's preseason game was the speed displayed from New England's linebacking corps. Mack Wilson, Anfernee Jennings, Josh Uche, and Raekwon McMillan all had a number of good plays, whether they were getting after the quarterback or giving chase to whoever had the ball.

Let's see more of that. A lot more of that.

Offensive Play-Calling

Yeah, we're back here again. Matt Patricia called plays last week when Brian Hoyer was in the game, and then Joe Judge took over when Bailey Zappe came in. The offensive play-calling duties appear to be Patricia's.

But just to throw an added wrinkle into the matter, Bill Belichick was calling offensive plays when the Patriots were in their two-minute drill on Wednesday. So once again, we'll have our peepers on the sideline to see who is calling the shots on offense.

Bonus: Will Things Get Heated?

Rhule may want to keep Kenny Robinson out of this one. Patriots players were not pleased with the Carolina safety after he knocked Kristian Wilkerson out of practice on Wednesday, but they weren't upset with the hit. They were miffed that Robinson celebrated the hit over Wilkerson, who was down and out on the ground. That's what kicked off the first of two scuffles during Wednesday's joint session. The second came when Deatrich Wise sent Christian McCaffrey to the ground when he really shouldn't have sent the Panthers running back to the ground. It was all very ugly, and everyone is lucky no fans got severely injured when the skirmish broke out close to the stands.

Matthew Slater, the unofficial nicest dude in the NFL, was fired up after practice and called out Robinson, the Panthers, an even the NFL. That's saying something.

Will the bad blood carry over to Friday's game? Will we see some extracurricular antics after the whistle? Both head coaches chastised their team for getting into it and essentially ruining the joint sessions, so chances are players will be on their best behavior. 

But if Robinson is on the field, don't be surprised if he gets a few bumps and shoves. Hopefully it doesn't devolve into the madness that was on the field Tuesday and Wednesday.

Tune in to Friday's Patriots-Panthers preseason game on WBZ-TV -- the flagship station of the New England Patriots. Coverage begins at 6:30pm with Patriots GameDay, kickoff is set for 7pm, and stay tuned after the game for full reaction and analysis on Patriots Fifth Quarter!

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