Next up are the reigning AFC champion New England Patriots. We are en route to Foxborough, Mass., where we will join the Patriots for a fun string of practices this week.
Here are some things we are looking for:
The offense gets all the publicity. But I know that side of the football will be fine. I will be paying attention to the Patriots’ defense. New England was ranked 31st last year and made a lot of additions via the draft and free agency. The Patriots are hoping additions like rookies Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones and veteran Steve Gregory help. The defense is getting a good test every day against New England’s offense.
We’re really looking forward to New England’s scrimmage this week against the New Orleans Saints. It’s not something has happens often these days. The Patriots have been fighting a lot in practice recently, and this chance to hit someone else comes at the right time. New Orleans has had a ton of offseason issues. But the Saints are talented, particularly on offense, and they will give New England a nice test on the practice field before the teams meet Thursday in the preseason opener for both.
I have a lot of questions about New England’s offensive line. The guard position, in particular, is very thin. Robert Gallery just retired. Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins is on the physically-unable-to-perform list after knee surgery, and guard Brian Waters’ status is still unknown. The Patriots also have health issues with Sebastian Vollmer. A lot of players have to step up.
Finally, it’s almost decision time for the Patriots at running back. New England has to choose among Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead by the end of the preseason. Ridley and Vereen, both second-year players, are the favorites. This is the time for one of these young running backs to step forward.