The New England Patriots travel to Tampa Bay night to play the NFC South Buccaneers on Sunday in the second week of preseason. The Patriots dropped their preseason opener to the Ravens 15-16, while Tampa Bay handed the Dolphins a 17-6 defeat. The game begins at 8:00pm and will be broadcast on local television and the NFL Network.
These division winners from 2007 last met in the preseason a year ago when the Buccaneers used a Matt Bryant field goal to secure a 13-10 victory in the preseason opener.
Preseason games are notorious for showcasing the teams' backups after the first few possessions. That was true in 2007's game between these clubs when Matt Cassel guided the Patriots to score first, and Matt Gutierrez played for the remainder of the game.
Both Cassel and Gutierrez are in a pitched battle again n 2008 with the stakes a little higher. While Guiterrez - an undrafted rookie out of Idaho State at the time - wasn't about to unseat Cassel for the backup role, this year things are different.
The Patriots have three quarterbacks in a pitched battle to backup Tom Brady, and the team is expected to retain just two of them. Rookie Kevin O'Connell joins the Matt and Matt competition for 2008. O'Connell has a leg up on the two Matts since New England selected O'Connell in the third round of the 2008 NFL Draft (94th overall), and aren't about to cut their third round rookie. The San Diego State product may see some playing time late in the game, but the competition Sunday night will come down to the two Matts.
Aside the quarterback battle, the cornerback battle is another competition worth keeping an eye on. With four players missing time this past week, the Patriots were forced to sign a pair of free agents off the street; Ade Jimoh and Jeff Shoate. Fernando Bryant and Ellis Hobbs are penciled in as the starters, but after them, the competition is open.
Other position battles to keep an eye on:
Tight End: Ben Watson has been inconsistent throughout camp, while David Thomas has yet to get on track after missing another year of extended playing time due to injury. Marcus Pollard looks to fend off young guns Jonathan Stupar and Stephen Spach.
Running Back: LaMont Jordan gets a chance to show that his first game in a Patriots uniform wasn't a fluke, while Laurence Maroney and Sammy Morris compete for the chance to become the team's lead back. Morris was close to knocking Maroney out of the starter's role in 2007 before he was injured. Both backs have something to prove in 2008, especially with Jordan in the mix.
Special Teams: Larry Izzo's captainship of the special teams unit is unquestioned, but role players like Eric Alexander, Chad Jackson, C.J. Jones and Matt Slater remain in question. Who will be the team's gunners? And which returners will seize the opportunity to become the go-to guy? Those are the questions surrounding special teams.