The New England Patriots host the Jacksonville Jaguars in their preseason opener Thursday night, and here are some under-the-radar players who have built momentum heading into the game and, in turn, others who appear to be in search of that momentum.
DT Adam Butler: An undrafted free agent from Vanderbilt, he has been disruptive as an interior pass-rusher at times. The 6-foot-5, 300-pound Butler arrived at Vanderbilt as an offensive line prospect, but coach James Franklin switched him to the defensive line after his 2012 freshman year. Smart move. Butler has a real shot to earn a roster spot if he keeps showing up as he has through the first 12 practices of camp.
LB Harvey Langi: The Patriots have been using him on the edge at times, and Langi caught my eye in one-on-one drills Tuesday because of the multiple ways he won. His power was evident as he took advantage of what appeared to be a technique miscue by Jaguars right tackle Jeremiah Poutasi (2015 third-round pick) and knocked Poutasi on his backside. Then I saw Langi win with both a speed rush and a spin move. The 6-foot-2, 252-pound Langi received $115,000 in guaranteed money, the highest total in the NFL this year for an undrafted player. He's making a charge.
WR Devin Lucien: The Patriots' 2016 seventh-round pick from Arizona State has shown reliable hands in competitive-catch situations downfield and has emerged as one of the surprise stories of camp. His most recent big play was a long gain down the left side on Tuesday on a nice deep ball from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Called "Luce" by quarterback Tom Brady, Lucien is part of a deep receiving corps that has been banged up a bit, which has created more opportunity for him. However, Lucien worked on the rehab field on Wednesday, which might indicate he's now also banged up.
DE Deatrich Wise Jr.: The fourth-round pick from Arkansas has been the primary beneficiary of Rob Ninkovich’s retirement, getting the majority of time at left end with the top group. When he rushes inside, his long arms can give interior linemen some trouble, as was the case in one-on-one drills Tuesday when he was too much for Jaguars guard A.J. Cann (2015 third-round pick) to handle.
IN SEARCH OF MOMENTUM
QB Jacoby Brissett: When asked about Brissett's jump from Year 1 to Year 2, which is usually the time when players make the most progress, coach Bill Belichick simply said, "It's a work in progress. We'll see. We're a little over a week into training camp, so we've got a long way to go." I watched Brissett get intercepted by Jaguars cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste in the end zone Tuesday on an underthrown pass. Brissett remains behind both Brady and Garoppolo on the depth chart, with most of his opportunities coming late in practice.
DE Kony Ealy: He has an opportunity to emerge at left end given Ninkovich's retirement, but it was telling when, during Wednesday's walk-through practice, he worked mostly with the backups and end-of-roster players. Something hasn't seemed to click with Ealy and the Patriots. When I've watched him, he hasn't consistently gotten off blocks. Once thought by some to be a roster lock, it now seems safe to say he's in a legitimate fight to earn a spot.
OT Tony Garcia: The third-round draft choice from Troy opened camp as the third-unit left tackle, and when starter Nate Solder missed a stretch of practices, the club rotated Cameron Fleming and LaAdrian Waddle in that spot instead of Garcia, signaling that the coaching staff doesn't view him as ready for that jump. Garcia looks a bit undersized/underpowered at times, but that was to be expected, as some analysts felt he would benefit from a developmental year. On Wednesday, Garcia didn't participate in a walk-through, instead heading to the rehab field, which suggests he might not play Thursday night.
ST Matthew Slater: The special-teams captain sustained what appeared to be a significant leg injury last week and hasn't been spotted since. He is the only injured player who hasn't joined teammates on the field at the start of practice. Slater had trouble walking the day he was injured, and Belichick visited the medical tent shortly after Slater retreated to it. After Slater battled through a series of nagging injuries last year, this wasn't the start he was hoping for.