Here are seven things we’re looking for when the Patriots host the Panthers Friday night in Foxboro in the third preseason game for both teams:

How much Tom Brady plays.

If history holds, Brady will play roughly 35-40 snaps over the course of Friday night’s game. Here’s a look at his workload in the third preseason game over the seven years:

2013: 16-for-24 for 185 yards and one pick in 45 snaps.
2012: 13-for-20 for 127 yards with 1 TD, one INT, 2 sacks in 45 snaps.
2011: 12-for-22 for 145 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT in 37 snaps. (In this one, Brady was knocked around pretty good in this game against a physical Lions front — he was sacked twice, fumbled once and was hit seven times.)
2010: 18-for-22 for 273 yards with 3 TDs in 30 snaps.
2009: 12-for-19 for 150 yards with 2 TDs, one sack in 29 snaps,
2008: DNP.
2007: 17-for-22 for 167 yards with 2 TDs (no snap information available).

Ideally, that would get him through the entirety of the first half and the first offensive series of the second half — it’s important for Brady and the starting offense to do as much as possible to simulate the regular-season experience. That includes finishing off the first half, taking the traditional break at halftime, and then returning to the field for the first series of the second half.

How much Stevan Ridley plays and if he holds on to the ball.

Ridley was in the spotlight again last week after losing the handle in the preseason win over the Eagles. Fair or not, his issues with ball security will continue to dog him until he proves he can hold on to the football for an extended stretch. Against Philly — even though it was a flukish looking fumble — it probably wasn’t entirely coincidental that he didn’t play any more after he put the ball on the ground, ending with 13 snaps. If he can put together a fumble-free outing against the Panthers, it’s an initial step in the right direction.

How the defense adjusts to the new points of emphasis.

We’ve seen a ton of flags over the course of the preseason as every gets used to the new points of emphasis. (According to ESPN Stats & Information, as of Thursday night, there were 116 defensive holding calls through Week 3 of the preseason. In the same stretch last year, there were 27.) While some cornerbacks have fundamentally shrugged their shoulders at the situation, it seems like there will be some sort of happy medium between now and the start of the regular season, as head of officiating Dean Blandino told NFL Network Thursday night, “When the regular season rolls around, everybody will be on the same page. I think you’ll see the foul totals go down.” Whether that means the officials will dial things back or the players will be fully up to speed on what they can and can’t do, no one knows. But the education for both the Patriots and Panthers will continue on Friday in Foxboro.

Who doesn’t play.

At this point, despite the fact that he was in pads and going through what appeared to be limited contact on Monday, it seems like a bit of reach to have Rob Gronkowski play at this point of the summer. (That would mean that recently re-signed rookie Justin Jones, as well as Steve Maneri and tight end/fullback James Develin would presumably get a good look at tight end.) The same is true for receiver Aaron Dobson, who is still working his way back from offseason foot surgery and is clearly not yet at 100 percent — it seems to be a stretch to have him on the field at this point. In addition, even though rookie defensive tackle Dominique Easley was at practice with his teammates in full pads on Monday, it seems a little early to try and throw him into the pool when it comes to playing time. (More of a chance for Joe Vellano, who exhaled again after Marcus Forston was cut loose on Thursday. Between the Forston release and the injury issues to Sealver Siliga and Chris Jones, Vellano has moved up the depth chart at defensive tackle without doing much of anything at all.) One question mark at this point is linebacker Jerod Mayo, who returned to practice this week after missing the three joint practices against the Eagles — he was predictably noncommittal when asked if he was going to be good to go this week, but if he doesn’t play, it will give another chance for youngsters like Steve Beauharnais to show what he can do when placed in the middle. And right tackle Sebastian Vollmer wasn’t spotted at practice all week, so it would be a shocker if he was out there with his teammates Friday.

How the guys on the bubble perform.

There are several players who have been around a year or two who need a good performance against the Panthers. With the first round of cuts around the corner (as of Thursday night, the Patriots have 87 players on their roster, but have to get to 75 by Tuesday afternoon), they need to get as much good stuff on film as possible, and are being pushed by either fellow vets or rookies for playing time.

The offensive line.

The Patriots rolled out a series of different combinations along the offensive line over the first two preseason games, and while you have to figure that things are relatively secure at the tackle spots (even though Vollmer has been banged up lately and won’t play Friday, when healthy, he’s the starting right tackle, while Nate Solder starts opposite him at left tackle) and left guard (Logan Mankins), there are still questions about what the Patriots want to do at the right guard and center positions. Dan Connolly has taken snaps at both spots, and figures to be in the mix for one of the jobs. Meanwhile, Jordan Devey has worked as a backup guard, as well as a starting right guard when Connolly moves to center. And veteran incumbent center Ryan Wendell has been yanked in and out of the lineup over the course of the summer. (We haven’t even touched on injured rookie center Bryan Stork, who has missed most of the last week-plus because of an unspecified health issue.) Expect Marcus Cannon to get the bulk of the snaps at right tackle in place of Vollmer, and the rest of the starters to go deep in this one. But with the understanding that the third game is traditionally the domain of the starters for the first two-plus quarters and because protection of Brady remains paramount, this will be one positional grouping we’ll be keeping a very close eye on in the early going.

The rookies — specifically Malcolm Butler, Jimmy Garoppolo, James White and Roy Finch.

Because so many veterans will be involved in the early stages of the game Friday night, this contest figures to be the closest thing to real regular-season reps for rookies as they are going to get before Week 1 against the Dolphins. In many ways, it will be a final exam for many of the rookies who have distinguished themselves over the course of the summer as potential impact players. Butler figures to get another good, long look — he took a team-high 49 snaps last week against the Eagles, according to Pro Football Focus — and could really cement his spot on the roster with another good outing Friday against the Panthers. (Although it remains to be seen how much he would have played if Alfonzo Dennard was healthy, there’s also the fact that you want to get as long a look as possible at an unknown like Butler.) Garoppolo should be relegated to second half duty, although it will be interesting to see when he plays, as Ryan Mallett was at practice all week. White has been underwhelming at times in game action, but has been mostly sharp in practice and both Bill Belichick and Brady speak highly of the fourth-rounder out of Wisconsin. And Finch had 71 yards from scrimmage last week against Philly, and averaged 7.9 yards per offensive touch. (He also averaged 26 yards on his two chances as a kick returner.) He should get a chance to build on that Friday against Carolina.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price

FOXBORO — Perhaps the most important part of preparing for the third preseason game is the shift in the mental focus.

Shane Vereen, a running back and multi-talented and multi-faceted part of the Patriots offense, should feel pretty confident and sure of his place on the 53-man roster when final cuts are made on Aug. 30.

But it’s the nerves and mental preparation of this week that help him get fired up and focused with the regular season opener just three weeks from Sunday.

“Absolutely, I’d say say so,” Vereen said when asked if getting into a regular season week type of routine this week helps. “But at the end of the day you still have to work on what you have to work on and that’s what we’re trying to get out of this week.”

Of course, the main reason outsiders view this week as so important is that it’s traditionally the week starters play the first half and in some cases, come out to start the third quarter to simulate a regular season NFL game.

“I think people might say just because the starters play more so than they have in the past two games but at the same time, you have to look at each opportunity, each rep, as an opportunity, as a chance to get better and prepare yourself for Sept. 7,” Vereen added.

Vereen will once again be called upon to fill many different roles in the Patriots’ offense, including one of the most reliable third-down options Tom Brady has, along with Julian Edelman. Vereen says he has seen Brady up close and personal enough to know that there are some things that don’t change, like Brady’s game focus and his expectation of precision in execution.

“I can’t say I’ve learned a whole lot because this is my fourth year now,” Vereen said. “I’ve seen him lead us now for three seasons. He does exactly what he’s done every other year. He’s led us well, he’s led the offense well and we look forward to seeing that from him for the rest of the year.”

While he is not the bell cow in the running game that Stevan Ridley or Brandon Bolden represent, Vereen says he would still like to get his running legs under him, something that can be somewhat of a challenge in training camp and practices where contact is not always as frequent or forceful.

“It’s hit or miss, depending on the week, depending on the factors but it’s repetitions, and the fact that we can go out every day and get the rep in the run game is going to help us a lot down the line.”

The Carolina Panthers and their physical defensive front seven figure to provide plenty of physical challenges in the first half to help Vereen and the Patriots offensive line get their game legs in the regular season dress rehearsal.

“I think it’s good,” Vereen said. “We can kind of get back to the basics, things that we really need to work on but it’s going to be another tough test and l’m looking forward to that as well.

“They’ve only had two games as well so it’s early for them, too. They’re a good bunch. They were really good last year defensively and I expect the same this year.”

Vereen was asked if he’s learned anything different this training camp from his first three.

“I’m learning I have a long way to go,” he said. “Just now getting going, kind of feeling the waters, feeling more comfortable now and looking forward to the next game.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

FOXBORO — As far as Tom Brady is concerned, go ahead and bring the heat, even in the preseason.

And certainly, with the Carolina Panthers coming to town Friday, the opponent certainly has the wherewithal to execute a blitz or two.

But usually, in the preseason, defensive coordinators like to hold off on showing too much on film when it comes to exotic or advanced defensive approaches. And offensive coordinators, similarly, do the same.

However, usual and customary are not two words commonly used to describe Rex Ryan. The Jets coach watched last Saturday as his defense was torched by Andy Dalton for 144 yards on 8-for-8 passing and a touchdown. His response? Start blitzing the Bengals second and third stringers along the offensive line.

Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander took some offense.

But if the Panthers want to do the same from the start against Tom Brady, the Patriots quarterback says he’d have no problem with it, since there is no “wrong” defense to play, even in the third preseason game.

“They can blitz, they can do whatever they want to do,” Brady said. “Every defense is right. Like every call, there is risk and reward to everything. If they’€™re going to blitz, then you’€™ve got to figure out a way to beat the blitz. If you don’€™t fix the blitz, they’€™re just going to keep running them. It’€™s the same thing on offense.”

Then Brady got to the heart of the matter and revealed what competition is all about, even in games that don’t count.

“If you see a weakness, you’€™re just going to keep going to it, and that’€™s what separates pro-caliber players from guys who aren’€™t. There are guys who can fix problems and know that this is what a team is trying to do, and then you figure out how to solve the problem, and then they’€™ve got to work on something else. But if you know there are weaknesses, that’€™s what you go after. That’€™s what pro football is all about.

“We’€™ve got two games left, and they’€™re both very important for our season, for our preparation leading up to the opener. Coach told us we’€™re going to get a lot of work, and what that means I don’€™t know. I don’€™t think anyone ever knows with him. But we’€™ll be prepared and ready to go for 60 minutes, and hopefully it’€™s a good 60 minutes. We’€™ve had a couple doozies in the third preseason game lately, and it’€™d be nice to have a good one.”

Brady also took some time to talk about the other Ohio team, which named its starting quarterback this week, old friend and teammate Brian Hoyer, Brady’s back-up between 2009 and 2011. Hoyer was chosen as the Browns starting QB over Johnny Manziel this week by Cleveland coach Mike Pettine.

“I love Brian. He’€™s just such a great guy, person and friend. We’€™ve always kept in touch,” Brady said. “I’€™m proud of him. He’€™s fought through some tough circumstances over the years, being released here, going to Arizona, getting a little bit of an opportunity there, and then really taking advantage of his opportunity in Cleveland. It’€™s great for him, and he’€™s a great player, so I’€™m very happy for him.”

Blog Author: 
WEEI

The Patriots released defensive lineman Marcus Forston and tight end D.J. Williams on Thursday. Here’s a portion of the statement issued by the team on the moves:

The Patriots released defensive lineman Marcus Forston and tight end D.J. Williams on Thursday. Here’s a portion of the statement issued by the team on the moves:

Forston, 24, was originally signed by the Patriots as a rookie free agent on May 10, 2012, out of Miami. The 6-foot-3, 305-pounder made the 53-man roster of training camp as a rookie but was released early in the season and brought back to the practice squad, where he spent the majority of the season. He eventually re-joined the 53-man roster prior to the AFC Championship Game but was inactive for the contest. He spent the majority of the 2013 season on the practice squad but had two stints on the 53-man roster, appearing in three games and registering three total tackles. Forston has played in four NFL games and has registered three total tackles.

Williams, 25, appeared in two regular-season games during two separate stints with the Patriots late last season. He first signed with the Patriots on Nov. 27, 2013, and then was re-signed on Dec. 9, 2014 after being released. The 6-foot-2, 245-pounder originally entered the NFL as a fifth-round draft pick (101st overall) by Green Bay out of Arkansas in 2011. Williams was waived by Green Bay on Aug. 31, 2013, and claimed off waivers and awarded to Jacksonville on Sept. 1, 2013. He was released by the Jaguars on Nov. 4, 2013. Williams has played in 35 NFL games with three starts and has nine receptions for 70 yards.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
With the Pats game on Friday night, MFB does a version of Patriots Friday a day early with Jerod Mayo. He talks about the Carolina Panthers.

Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo, who has yet to play a game this preseason, joined Middays with MFB on Thursday as the team prepares to play the Panthers on Friday night.

Patriots linebacker Jerod Mayo, who has yet to play a game this preseason, joined Middays with MFB on Thursday as the team prepares to play the Panthers on Friday night. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Mayo, who suffered a season-ending torn pectoral muscle last Oct. 13, would not share information about the reason why he was held out of last week’s joint practices with the Eagles and ensuing preseason game, saying only, “I’m fine.” He’s practiced with the team this week but said he’s not sure if he’ll be playing in Friday’s game.

“Whenever I get back out there I’m sure I’ll hopefully have a good time getting out there with the guys and competing against another team,” he said.

Mayo explained that he’s bought in to Bill Belichick‘s approach of avoiding sharing details with the media.

“Obviously everyone has their own personality and everyone has their own flavor that they want to put on answers,” Mayo said. “But at the same time, you don’t want to give the opposition too much information. It’s the radio. Everybody’s listening to this station.”

One of the big stories of the preseason has been the officials’ strict adherence to the rules, as the flags have been flying with high frequency.

“That’s where the league is trending, to [calling] the illegal contact,” Mayo said. “It’s not a new rule. It’s just a point of emphasis. We just have to abide by the rules and hopefully go out there and play good football.”

For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar
Jordan Devey

Jordan Devey

FOXBORO — The Patriots are giving offensive lineman Jordan Devey a long, hard look this preseason.

Following the second week of preseason games, Devey was the only player in the entire NFL to go wire-to-wire in both games, as the 26-year-old has played all 148 offensive snaps for the Patriots through the first two games.

“It’€™s camp. We’€™re all fighting for a position and we’€™re all trying to do our job to our best and that is what I am trying to do — get better everyday,” Devey said.

After spending last season on the Patriots practice squad, Devey entered training camp as a long-shot to make the team, but he’€™s given himself a chance. The Patriots drafted three offensive linemen — Bryan Stork, Cameron Fleming, and Jon Halapio – and also have plenty of veterans at the position, but even with the crowd, Devey has stood out in Bill Belichick‘€™s mind.

“I think he’€™s improved a lot from last year,” Belichick said. “€œHe’€™s had a good offseason. He’€™s worked really hard. He’€™s a smart guy. His fundamentals have improved. His strength is better. His offseason program was very productive. … He really was able to take advantage of that and put himself in a very competitive position.”

After being an undrafted free agent by the way of Snow College and the University of Memphis and linking up with the Patriots following a stint with the Ravens last year, Devey acknowledged the offseason work he put in is starting to show in his play.

“I feel like I am able to sit lower in my stance and come off with a little bit more power,” Devey said. “I still feel like I have a long way to go, I haven’€™t peaked in the weight room yet. Everyday I still feel like I can get stronger.”

A number of the current Patriots starting linemen have spent time on a practice squad at one time or another, including Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell. Seeing them get to where they are today, gives him some added confidence in getting to his goal of one day being a starting offensive lineman.

“It was incredible,”€ he said of his time on the practice squad last year. “€œWe have a lot of great guys on the o-line with a lot of experience. I knew as a practice squad guy — first off to help the defensive guys get better, but also learn from the vets — guys like Logan Mankins, Sebastian Vollmer, Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell — all those guys at one point or another have been in my shoes and I learned from them and how to get better from it.”

One of the biggest things going for Devey is his ability to play almost every position on the line, as he has lined up at every spot except center this preseason.

“€œAll the coaches that I’€™ve had in the past and the coach I have now, they really stress trying to be able to play more positions,”€ Devey said. ‘€œI feel like it’€™s helped me. The more you can do, the more it helps you in the long run.”

Although it would seem Devey has come a long way in just one offseason –“ going from the practice squad to now playing every snap through the first two preseason games — he still feels like he has a long way to go and can be even better.

“I feel like I still have a long way to go,” Devey said. “€œThere are always techniques that I can improve on. I feel like I have improved a lot from last year, but I still feel like there is a long way to go for me.”

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

FOXBORO — Every once in a while, there’s a player perfectly suited to play with Tom Brady.

Everyone knows about Wes Welker, Randy Moss, Julian Edelman, Troy Brown and Deion Branch.

But there’s one player who fits into that category, a player that has most certainly flown under the radar since his arrival in New England as an all-purpose player.

Since being released off Cincinnati’s practice squad in the middle of the 2012 season, Develin has found a home in New England. Develin is the kind of Patriot that Bill Belichick, and by extension, Tom Brady, love having around. He was a defensive end at Brown before switching over to tight end and fullback with the Bengals and the Patriots.

He played in all 16 games last season for the Patriots, carrying the ball four times for 10 yards. But that hardly tells the story for the fullback. Three of those carries were for first downs. The other? his first career touchdown. He was targeted four times in the passing game, catching all four passes for 62 yards and three first downs.

On Wednesday, Brady was asked about Develin’s evolution as a player.

“He’€™s done such a great job,” Brady said. “He’€™s such a selfless player, great teammate. I don’€™t think there is a better fullback in the league, so I’€™m so happy he’€™s on our team, and what he’€™s been able to accomplish for our team has been awesome. He brings so much in terms of his toughness, his attitude. It’€™s that one position on offense that can really bring a lot of toughness. You get it out of that fullback position. He does whatever the team asks him to do. I can’€™t say enough good things about him because I think so highly of him.”

Last Friday against the Eagles, he caught a pass from Jimmy Garoppolo and steamrolled 15 yards for a touchdown. He caught two passes for 27 yards and is becoming a legitimate threat out of the backfield as a receiving option. Clearly, Brady has no hesitation throwing the ball to a player who once played defensive end for the Brown Bears.

“Absolutely not. I want to get it to him, believe me,” Brady insisted. “I want to throw it and see if he can make the defense pay because that’€™s what he does such a great job of. You give it to him for a four-yard gain, and he comes up and, ‘€˜Bam!’€™ he runs over a safety or a corner. That’€™s a great spark for our team. I want to give it to him as many times as I can in those positions.

“He’€™s been so dependable for us. I think he’€™s been so consistent since he’€™s been here. Once he got his opportunity he really took advantage of it last summer when we put the pads on for the first time, and he really showed us what he’€™s all about. He continued that through the whole season, became a really dependable player for us last year, and he’€™s carried that over into this season. It’€™s great to have him, and all the skill guys we’€™re going to need because it’€™s a long year. Whoever is active at the skill spots, we’€™ve got to use everybody.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia