After a 42-35 win over the Philadelphia Eagles last Friday, the New England Patriots are getting set for their last home preseason game tonight against the Carolina Panthers (7:30 PM ET). Tom Brady saw his first action in the preseason last week and despite throwing a pick-six to Cary Williams, he was able to throw a touchdown to Kenbrell Thompkins. As for the rookie sensation, Jimmy Garoppolo continued to steal the show with two touchdowns and being the first quarterback to come in after Brady.
The third preseason game is always known as the game where the team plays its starters the longest of any of the four preseason games. You have to think that the Patriots’ starters are going to play at least a half in this one. As for New England’s opponent, the Carolina Panthers, they are coming in to this season after a NFC South title last year with a lot of questions.
For Carolina, they are trying to build on what they accomplished last season after they lost in the NFC Divisional Round to the 49ers. The big storyline for Ron Rivera’s team is the health of their quarterback Cam Newton, who underwent ankle surgery this offseason. Newton is also trying to get used to a new group of receivers headlined by first round draft pick, Kelvin Benjamin. His old targets, Steve Smith and Brandon Lafell, are off with the Ravens and Patriots respectively.
The strength of this Panthers’ team is their defense, which was second in the whole league in yards allowed last year. Their defense is led by middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. The third-year player out of Boston College had 156 tackles and four interceptions a season ago.
Before the Patriots get underway tonight, here are four players that I have my eye on for the game against Carolina:
1. Some Carries For Shane: For the first two preseason games, most of the talk about the running backs has been the rise of James White in practice or Stevan Ridley’s ball security. However, could this be the game that Shane Vereen breaks out as this season is the last year on his rookie contract. The fourth-year running back out of California had two receptions for 21 yards against the Eagles. As we saw last season, Vereen is going to be a key target for the Patriots’ offense in the passing game. He had four games last season where he had seven or more catches. However, if Ridley continues to struggle with ball security, Vereen could see some more carries in this offense.
2. Harmon Finding A Home At Strong Safety: When the Patriots opened training camp, one of the key position battles was who would be that safety that would pair with Devin McCourty in the secondary. One of the players that has stood out in that role is second year safety, Duron Harmon. Harmon has a pair of tackles in the first two preseason games, but the big play he made on Friday was the interception he had against Mark Sanchez in the third quarter. I am interested to see how Harmon improves this season after his rookie year. The safety from Rutgers did have two interceptions last season and has made clear strides above the other candidates for that spot.
3. It’s About Tyms: While Brian Tyms is going to miss the first four games of the season due to being suspended for Adderall, it hasn’t changed the surprise that the second year wide receiver from Florida A&M has been
a very nice surprise. He has a touchdown in both games this preseason, including an excellent fade reception from Garoppolo against the Redskins. While the Patriots can’t play him till Week 5, if an injury happens to any of the key receivers, maybe Tyms will get to see some time with the first team. That is why it will be interesting to see who Tyms is playing with tonight.
4. Bursting Out Of The Cannon: One of the key injuries in Patriots’ camp has been right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. Vollmer (“Sea Bass”) has missed practice all week due to a foot injury. This likely means that New England will go with Marcus Cannon at the right tackle position. Cannon made six starts a season ago, but the Patriots will want to see what the fourth year veteran out of TCU could do in that position. The Patriots drafted a dearth of offensive lineman including Bryan Stork of Florida State, Cameron Fleming of Stanford, and Jon Halapio of Florida. Cannon provides flexibility on the roster considering he can play both the tackle and guard position. Now, the question will be whether or not Cannon can make an impact and gain himself more playing time in 2014.