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Patriots to watch during preseason opener

A look back at James White's incredible career with the Patriots
A look back at James White's incredible career with the Patriots 00:54

FOXBORO -- The Patriots open their preseason slate on Thursday night, though Mac Jones and most of the team's starters aren't expected to play. But that just opens the door for several other players to steal the spotlight at Gillette Stadium.

It would have been nice to see Jones and the first-team offense go against some New York Giants starters, but Bill Belichick has two sets of joint practices in the near future to get a better feel of where his team is at. Sitting starters on Thursday will give him, the rest of the coaching staff (and of course, the fans) an extended look at some other really intriguing players on the roster.

Bailey Zappe

Brian Hoyer will probably get the start and see a decent amount of reps, but rookie Bailey Zappe should get the most playing time at QB. There is a lot of interest in the fourth-round pick after he threw for nearly 6,000 and 62 touchdowns at Western Kentucky last year.

Tyquan Thornton

The rookie receiver has been the talk of camp because of his absurd speed in the passing game. He's been leaving the secondary in the dust, and Thursday night we should be able to see what he can do against an actual NFL opponent.

He'll be wearing a familiar number too, with the Pats assigning him the No. 11 jersey on Thursday. Those are some big shoes to fill.

Cole Strange

The first-round pick is expected to be a starter, so he may not see any action. But it'd be nice to see if he has what it takes in the trenches against an NFL opponent.

Pierre Strong, Kevin Harris

ROOKIEMANIA! But with James White retiring on Thursday, the Patriots are officially looking for a new pass-catching back. Versatile veteran Ty Montgomery could slide into that role, but rookies Pierre Strong (50 receptions over his career at South Dakota State) and Kevin Harris (35 receptions at South Carolina) could get a chance to win the job.

Marcus Jones

Yes, the rookie trend continues. Jones has actually gotten some run with the starters in the secondary as a slot corner, and could be in line for a real role on defense in Year 1. He's also a pretty electric punt returner, so hopefully the defense can force a few punts this evening so we can see Jones do his thing. 

LaBryan Ray

OK, one final rookie. Ray is an undrafted defensive lineman out of Alabama who is making a strong push to make the team. He's been a handful for blockers at camp, and should get plenty of run against the Giants.

Tre Nixon

A seventh-round pick last year, Nixon has an uphill battle in a crowded wide receiver room. But he's been a solid pass-catcher at camp and has also seen time in the return game this summer.

Anfernee Jennings

A third-round pick in 2020 who saw plenty of playing time that season, Jennings missed all of 2021 with an injury. He's been a beast to start camp, and has made steps toward becoming a disruptive force at linebacker. He could also see some time on the edge.

Matt Patricia and Joe Judge

We'll have some eyes on the sideline too -- or up in the booth, depending on who is where. But we'll all obviously be watching to see which coach gets to handle the offensive play-calling duties on Thursday night.

Tune in to Thursday's Patriots-Giants preseason game on WBZ-TV -- the flagship station of the New England Patriots! Pregame coverage begins at 6:30pm with Patriots GameDay, kickoff is set for just after 7pm, and after the game stay tuned to Patriots 5th Quarter!

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