New England Patriots: 10 Players to Watch Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The defense needs to continue to gel, and players must capitalize on opportunities and show they deserve to either be starters or part of the rotation.
On the offensive side of the ball, the offensive line needs to improve dramatically from its dismal performance across the first two games.
The third preseason game should be fun to watch, with several key starters expected to play after sitting out against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Here are 10 players to watch as the Patriots take on the Buccaneers.
Kyle Love, DT
After signing a contract extension through the 2013 season, Kyle Love needs to show that he deserves to start next to Vince Wilfork on opening day.
Love has proven that he is an effective run-stopper.
However, aside from the interior pressure that resulted in Jermaine Cunningham’s hit on Michael Vick, Love hasn’t proven that he can consistently collapse the pocket on passing plays.
With the Patriots looking like they will be employing a four-man line the majority of the time, Love needs to show he can both stop the run and rush the passer.
Jermaine Cunningham, DE
With a strong offseason and a full training camp, Jermaine Cunningham looks like he is poised to finally show fans why Belichick drafted him in the second round in 2010.
Cunningham looks like he has bulked up now that he is solely a defensive end. The extra weight and strength showed up against the Philadelphia Eagles when Cunningham hit Michael Vick and knocked the starting quarterback out of the game.
The third year player needs to show that he is up for the challenge and without Andre Carter and Mark Anderson, Cunningham is expected to provide a boost to the Patriots pass-rush rotation in 2012.
Brandon Lloyd, WR
The hype surrounding Brandon Lloyd has been unbearable.
Despite the fact that he has some experience in Josh McDaniel’s offense, he has yet to prove he gels with Tom Brady.
In limited time against the New Orleans Saint, Lloyd didn’t record a single catch. However, Lloyd did make a nice catch across the middle that was called back due to a penalty.
After sitting out against the Eagles, Lloyd needs to take advantage of live action and build a connection with Brady.
Marcus Cannon, OT
First off it is a miracle that Marcus Cannon is playing football in 2012. After beating non-Hodgkin lymphoma last year he fought his way back and played in week 11 against the Kansas City Chiefs.
With Sebastian Vollmer battling injuries Cannon has started at right tackle during the first two preseason games. Cannon has struggled containing both power moves and speed rushes and despite the endorsement from Belichick that he is a tackle he looks better suited to play guard in the NFL.
The 24-year-old will have another shot to show improvement against the Buccaneers.
Nate Solder, OT
While Marcus Cannon has struggled on the right side, Nate Solder has had his own issues on the left side. The second year tackle out of Colorado has failed to live up to his first round status early on this preseason.
At 6’8”, Solder needs to squat down in order to have leverage against pass-rushers. So far in the two preseason games, he has been too upright and prone to bull-rushes.
Additionally, Solder needs to use his long arms to his advantage and push defenders away and keep them from gaining inside position. He has shown the potential, but needs to use the remaining preseason games to iron out the wrinkles before the regular season begins.
Chandler Jones, DE
After a very productive first preseason game against the New Orleans Saints Chandler Jones was virtually nonexistent against the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Bucs utilized a tight end to chip Jones and slow down his pass rush moves. Jones will need to get used to chips with no other major pass-rusher on the team.
As a rookie Jones needs to learn from the preseason and fine tune his moves before it counts.
Ryan Mallett, QB
Ryan Mallet has had a decent preseason so far. He has basically played one full game and he was 18/39 for 194 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
The stats won’t wow you, but in the second game, Mallett showed progress and his lone mistake was wiped off by a Eagles penalty.
Despite an awful performance by the offensive line and a dreadful performance by the running backs, Mallett handled himself well and constructed multiple scoring drives.
While both Mallett and Brian Hoyer are expected to make the final 53-man roster, the remaining preseason games are a chance for Mallett to show that he could be a reliable backup moving forward.
Jabar Gaffney, WR
In the first preseason game, Jabar Gaffney had two catches for 18 yards in limited playing time. Gaffney needs to build on that performance and show that he deserves to be a part of the receiver rotation this season.
With three receivers fighting for what looks like Gaffney must show that he can rekindle the connection with Tom Brady that he showed in 2007-2008.
Gaffney has been healthier and more productive that both Deion Branch and Donte Stallworth, but he needs to use the next two games that he can stay healthy and productive.
Deion Branch, WR
Deion Branch needs to show he can stay healthy during the final weeks of the preseason.
Branch is potentially on the roster bubble depending on the number of receivers the Patriots decide to keep on the 53-man roster. Although he is one of Tom Brady’s all-time favorite receivers, if Branch can’t stay healthy he team has replacements waiting in the wind in Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth.
The 33-year-old veteran needs to show he still has enough left in the tank against the Buccaneers to warrant being on the roster for the regular season.
Tavon Wilson, FS
When Tavon Wilson was drafted by the Patriots in the second round it came as a shock to most experts. So far in camp Wilson has shown that he warrants being on the roster.
However, with Patrick Chung out against the Buccaneers, the University of Illinois product needs to take advantage of the extra playing time and show the coaches that he should be part of a three-man rotation with Chung and Steve Gregory.
Not only does Wilson need to show that he can be a viable member of the rotation, but with Chung missing 10 games in the past two seasons, Wilson needs to show he can step in and start when his number is called.