Men In The Middle - The Linebacker Watch.
The linebackers are a key element of the Patriots ability to compete late in close games. Key runs are stopped, passes intercepted or batted down, many by the linebackers. This unit has its share of new blood vying for a role. With 14 linebackers on the roster, four will not be around on Sunday. The key battles to watch are between the newcomers as veterans Tully Banta-Cain, Don Davis, Larry Izzo and Eric Alexander have probably done enough to cement a spot for the season.
Battle on the Outside (1 spot): Mincey, Woods, Brown,
Jeremy Mincey - the team's sixth-round pick out of Florida is a former college defensive lineman working at outside linebacker. He has not looked fluid in his transition to the "up" position, but has the size to take on larger offensive lineman at the point of attack.
Pierre Woods - another former defensive end who moved to outside linebacker. This Michigan product's ability to get to the point of attack and his nose for the ball on defense and special teams make the decision to keep him a tough one.
Chad Brown who is nursing a sore wrist. May have missed too much time to make the cut.
Battle on the Inside (3 possibly 4 spots): Gardner, Beisel, Seau, Alexander, Mays, Izzo, Davis
Barry Gardner - has not been the dominant force the Patriots hoped for on the inside. Gardner has an opportunity to secure his roster spot with solid play against the run. He was caught up in traffic early in the preseason.
Junior Seau - Seau has done everything asked of a reserve linebacker. His status is almost certain. He looks better than most of the players he's competing against for a spot so he'll likely stay.
Monty Beisel - Beisel is firmly on the bubble. He began training camp working with the first unit. He's now working with the reserves and only working into the lineup late in the game.
Larry Izzo and Don Davis are almost certain locks due to their experience on special teams. Eric Alexander has done well and will probably land a spot, but his substitution play is important. Corey Mays is a long shot, and is a likely candidate for the practice squad..
Who Will Catch The Ball - The Receivers Battle
Who you will see:
Kelvin Kight - a camp favorite, Kight is in a good position to land a job because the unit lacks depth. With Branch and Jackson out, Kight has had to step in as the default starter next to Brown and Caldwell.
Bam Childress - Childress was the camp wonder in 2005, and he has done little to lose a step in 2006. He's in a tough spot to try to make a unit that is looking for receivers with height. Look for more big-play ability out of the WR.
Reche Caldwell - Inconsistency is the knock. Caldwell could use more game time with starting quarterback Tom Brady, but with Brady likely sitting out, he won't get it. He'll have to make do with backup Matt Cassel.
Eddie Berlin - Berlin joined the Patriots midway though camp and struggled a bit on some of the drills. Unless he shows the ability to get open and hold onto passes thrown near him, landing a job may be tough.
John Stone - the second year pro from Wake Forest showed some talent early in camp then got banged up. He managed to get the attention of onlookers when he caught virtually every pass thrown at him in the early part of camp.
Can They Do More Than Run - Backs must be special
Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney are in. Maroney may see some time against the Giants but it won't be for long. Fullbacks Heath Evans, Garrett Mills and running back Patrick Cobbs will have a chance to show their stuff.
Evans is a big back with a reputation for having the ability to make tough catches out of the backfield. He showed good hands running sideline routes in camp. He's in a position battle with Garrett Mills the team's fourth-round pick. Mills also fills in at tight end so classifying him in one particular spot probably doesn't do his athletic ability justice. If Mills can block better and show the running ability he was noted for at Tulsa, he could make it hard to keep Evans.
Patrick Cobbs is a shifty back with quickness, Cobbs built a reputation for making big plays in the preseason. Cobbs broke off runs of 24 and 36 yards against the Redskins last week, and turned a short pass into a 57-yard catch-and-run against the Falcons. Cobbs ability to rip off a big play is what to watch for, at least it is if he plays.
Willie's World - Offense, Defense or Special teams tonight
Willie Andrews began camp as a defensive back who could compete for a role returning kicks. His athletic ability was put to use when he assumed the duties of running routes at wide receiver for the scout team. Andrews fared so well at the job, the team put gave him a white jersey to practice with the receivers in camp.
The key for Andrews is to prove he can be a defender first, and a kick returner second. His additional ability to make plays on offense would cement a spot on the final roster. The thing to watch against the Giants is where No. 38 lines up. He may see action with all three units.
Covering all Bases
The defensive secondary is another highly contested area for roster spots. Ellis Hobbs, Asante Samuel, Eugene Wilson, Rodney Harrison are locks with Chad Scott, Artrell Hawkins and Randall Gay probable. The other spots are up for grabs.
The corner battle between Eric Warfield, Randall Gay, and Chad Scott will likely determine who gets one of those open slots. Warfield has spent most of camp trying to learn the system. Although he's practiced mainly with the second or third units, Warfield has shown playmaking ability that could come in handy.
Gay's penchant for injury has limited his impact on the position. When healthy, Gay manned both the corner and safety spots. He's in a direct battle with Chad Scott and Artrell Hawkins who both have similar ability. While Warfield will likely always be a corner, Gay, Scott and Hawkins have all spent time at safety for New England. It will be interesting to see where they line up.
Guss Scott and James Sanders have to prove they were worthy of the picks the team used on them in the Draft. Scott has battled knee injuries while Sanders has fought his own injury battle. They'll have a tall task to unseat Hawkins, Scott and Gay.