BOSTON (CBS) -- It may only be preseason, but Patriots football has arrived.
The Pats will finally take the field for some game-action tonight as they square off against the Washington Redskins in the nation's capital. We've seen plenty of great things from the offense and defense in practice, including their three joint practices with Washington this week, but now we get to see them in action with a scoreboard keeping track of everything.
No, it doesn't count. All the stats will be an afterthought come September 7 in Miami, if not sooner. But the point is the glow from our television will be a little warmer thanks to the wonderful game of football once again taking over, and pretty soon our Sundays will be booked up until (hopefully) early February.
We know you need no assistance when it comes to watching the first Patriots game in 200 days, but here is what to watch for as the Patriots take on the Redskins:
We already know that Rob Gronkowski won't be playing, and after a week of practicing against the Redskins, Bill Belichick may have seen all he needed to out of his star players. So it's very likely that Tom Brady, Darrelle Revis, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and other veterans may just see a series or two against Washington-- if they play at all.
But if they're out there, look for them to make the most of that brief opportunity. Brady has been Brady this preseason, impressing Skins fans and the media alike with his surgical performances in Richmond. With a whole new crop of receivers last season, Brady played a series in the Pats' preseason opener. He may get that this year, or he may get a nice seat on the bench.
Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are both coming off injury-shortened seasons, so they'll be two big bodies to keep an eye on. The preseason is a good time to shake off any of the lingering rust that goes with rehabbing from injuries, but the first game may not be the best time to do so.
If Brady and others are in there, soak it in while it lasts.
There are two passers behind Brady on the depth chart, and each of them bring their own level of intrigue.
In one corner there is Ryan Mallett, entering his fourth NFL season with the Patriots. Mallett hasn't done much in the regular season thanks to the future Hall of Famer in front of him, so the preseason is really his time to shine. Heading into free agency in the offseason, the preseason may be (we really mean hopefully) the only time he gets to show off his skills. There have been mixed reviews of Mallett's performance this summer, with some saying he could be a starting QB elsewhere while others say he can barely hit the side of a barn. These four preseason games are going to be big for Mallett, who can showcase what he's learned the last three years under Brady.
He also has second-round draft pick right behind him on the depth chart, one who will challenge him for snaps this summer. Jimmy Garoppolo has had plenty of rookie moments in camp, and not just carrying Brady and Mallett's gear, but has also shown some signs as to why Belichick used the 62nd overall pick on a guy who may not play at all when it means anything over the next three years.
A little healthy competition never hurt anyone, so this should be good for both of Brady's backups. They'll push each other to be at their best, as they both try to solidfy their spots on the depth chart.
Who Gets The Run At Running Back
Once again, the Patriots have a healthy collection of backs to take the ball from Brady whenever he hands it off, and they'll all be looking for their fair share of carries this preseason.
Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden are all back, and joining them are rookies James White, Steven Houston and Roy Finch. Health and fumbling were concerns for Ridley and Vereen last season, so staying healthy and holding onto the football is a must for them this preseason if they don't want to fall back on the depth chart. Bolden was steady in his limited playing time, averaging 4.9 yards per carry, but has plenty of competition from the youngsters behind him.
Of all the rookies, White has been the most impressive in camp and has drawn praise from both Belichick and Brady. A good preseason from the rookie could propel him up the depth chart, and if the struggles that plagued Ridley and/or Vereen in 2013 resurface, the rookie could take his spot as the premiere back.
The Redskins complained about the hard-hitting duo of Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner during joint practices, and the physicality those two show on the field -- especially Browner -- has been contagious among the other defensive groups of the Patriots.
Now the two (if they play) will not only get to hit their opponent in a game, but they'll have an official watching and ready to throw a flag. Much has been made about how physical the New England secondary will be this season, and we get our first real glance at it Thursday night.
Plus, with Browner suspended for the first four regular season games, the preseason is the only glimpse we'll get of him in a Patriots uniform until October 5 against the Bengals.
Dan Roche Previews Pats-Redskins
Tune in to Patriots-Redskins Thursday night at 7:30pm on WBZ-TV and 98.5 The Sports Hub — the flagship stations of the New England Patriots. Pregame coverage begins on 98.5FM at 4:30pm, with three hours of postgame analysis following the game. WBZ-TV gets things started with a special edition of Patriots GameDay at 7pm, following by Patriots 5th Quarter after the game.
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