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From Tom Brady to Trey Flowers, plenty to highlight in Pats-Bears tilt

Tom Brady might make his preseason debut Thursday night against the Bears. Chris Carlson/AP Photo

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots host the Chicago Bears in preseason action Thursday (8 p.m.). Here's a quick-hit, position-by-position breakdown of what I'll be watching for:

Quarterback

If Tom Brady plays, he will start. Signs have been pointing in the direction of Brady playing, but things are often fluid with the Patriots' plans at quarterback in the preseason. Earlier this week, Bill Belichick echoed his prior remarks about getting Jimmy Garoppolo ready for the start of the season as the "priority," and for his part, Garoppolo is focusing on a faster start after three-and-outs on his first two drives in the opener.

Running back

It's LeGarrette Blount versus Tyler Gaffney for the top power back role, and since Gaffney didn't play on offense in the first half in the opener, I want to see if he gets a chance to run behind the top line. If he does, that could be an indication the competition is heating up.

Tight end

Rob Gronkowski won't play, so it's Martellus Bennett as the No. 1 option once again. He played 36 snaps in the opener. Can 2015 sixth-rounder AJ Derby keep up the momentum as he vies for the No. 3 role, or does veteran Clay Harbor -- the early-camp favorite who has yet to emerge -- begin to make a charge?

Wide receiver

Free-agent signing Chris Hogan didn't play in the opener, but has since been cleared for full contact so this could be his debut. We won't see rookie Malcolm Mitchell, who dislocated his elbow in the opener, which means Aaron Dobson, Chris Harper and Nate Washington will look to make an impression at the X spot.

Offensive line

David Andrews currently has the upper hand in the competition at center. Bryan Stork -- thrown out of practice Tuesday for throwing punches (that didn't connect) on linebacker John Timu -- will look to alter the course.

Defensive end

With no Rob Ninkovich, Jabaal Sheard and Shea McClellin, it should be a chance to watch Trey Flowers against the Bears' first unit. Flowers had a nice opener against the Saints' backup blockers.

Defensive tackle

Under-the-radar second-year player Anthony Johnson (LSU) was taking some top reps in practice, which could be a sign that we'll see more of him in this game.

Linebacker

Top backup Jonathan Freeny was cleared for full contact and thus could be making his debut. After Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins, the depth falls off. Rookie Kamu Grugier-Hill, who seems to make a notable play every practice or so, doesn't fit the traditional prototype at the position at 220 pounds.

Cornerback

Undrafted rookies Jonathan Jones and Cre'von LeBlanc have made plays on the ball in practice, and that continued in the opener. If they keep playing that way, they could make it tough on coaches when deciding roster spots.

Safety

Jordan Richards, the 2015 second-round pick from Stanford, should continue to see valuable reps behind starters Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung. Richards also has been the personal protector on the punt team.

Special teams

After some struggles in punt coverage in the opener, retired special-teams coach Scott O'Brien showed up for the week of practice with the Bears. It might have been a coincidence, but the Patriots will be looking for improvement against Chicago.