1. So — how's Randy?! Will he play on Friday?
Randy has nursed his sore leg since tweaking it last week. The injury has kept him from running or taking part in any drills since. Although it's possible you'll see Moss on the field Friday, I would think that the Patriots would much rather give him the time off than risk causing a setback for a meaningless preseason game.
Cornerback Dante Wesley was acquired in a trade with the Chicago Bears less than a week ago. It would be a huge boost for the Patriots if Wesley could share some of the burden caused by Asante Samuel's absence, but from what we've seen so far in camp, I wouldn't count on it. Wesley has skills, but he's so far behind in the Patriots defensive scheme, that any real benefit he brings is on special teams.
Expectations are that Wesley will be a part-time contributor at the start of the season, and eventually grow into a nickel or dime situational corner. By that time, Samuel should be back. If Samuel is a no-show, then Wesley's presence really won't impact the starters (Randall Gay and Ellis Hobbs), but should play a part in the unit's improved depth.
3. Given that he's trying to prove he can handle the whole rushing load, how much playing time will RB Lawrence Maroney get on Friday? And is he ready, in your opinion, to shoulder the load?
Maroney has worn a red (no contact) jersey for the entire camp. His off-season shoulder surgery was more serious than originally thought, and the team can ill afford to have him re-injure himself on Friday. If you do see Maroney, then it will be a very limited role.
4. Who is Matt Gutierrez and why should anyone in Tampa Bay care? The Patriots have three quarterbacks on their roster, but four lockers for quarterbacks in the locker room. Matt Gutierrez is holding a spot for Vinny Testaverde, but he isn't acting like just space filler. Gutierrez has had tremendous success in high school as one of the most prolific passers at that level to ever come from the Golden State. It propelled him to Michigan where he held the starting job until suffering an injury. When he returned, Chad Henne had the job locked down, so Gutierrez moved on to Idaho State.
Although Gutierrez has had his fair share of struggles in camp, his potential is there to be a starting QB in the league someday. If he can show some of the successes he's had in camp when he does get on the field, Gutierrez can throw a ball as well as anyone else on the field. People never heard of Matt Cassel until he almost beat the Dolphins his rookie season. Gutierrez has the same type of potential.
5. Do you have a handle yet on how the Pats are going to use Adalius Thomas this season?
Thomas tweaked his foot/ankle in camp the other day. Whether he plays Friday is a question. As for the season, expect to see Thomas in the inside next to Tedy Bruschi, which allows the Patriots to move Mike Vrabel back to the outside. That lineup gives the Patriots the greatest potential to wreak havoc from any linebacker position with Vrabel, Bruschi, Thomas and Colvin all on the field together.
We do expect the Patriots to move Thomas around, which is something he's been doing in camp. You will see plenty of unusual alignments as Thomas' versatility allows Bill Belichick to get creative with his schemes – something offensive coordinators in the league will appreciate.
6. What's the most interesting position battle in Pats camp that Bucs fans should take an interest in Friday night?
Aside from receiver with all the questions about the health of Donte Stallworth and Randy Moss, Bucs fans should keep an eye on the Patriots right tackle position. It's been an area of concern for New England's offensive line since the start of the 2006 season.
OT Ryan O'Callaghan, a fifth-round draft pick out of California in 2006, is a beast. He's trying to unseat incumbent Nick Kaczur, a third-round pick out of Toledo in 2005. Both players started in 2006 but both were sidelined by injury issues. O'Callaghan can move piles, but has pass protection issues – ironic because of the system he came out of at Cal. Kaczur is more complete at this point, but it's no sure bet he will hold down the starting role if O'Callaghan can improve. With O'Callaghan's size (6-foot-7, 330-pounds) and strength, expect the Patriots to try to pound the ball by running to his side.
Prediction: Patriots win by a lot if Brady, Moss and Maroney start. Bucs probably pull out a win if the teams move to the backups early.