The preseason tune-up will likely feature a healthy dose of action by the reserve players for both teams. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady hasn't played in any games for the Patriots this preseason, and is expected to sit out another one as he was spotted in California attending to personal business earlier in the week. Brady reportedly has a bone bruise on his foot, an injury that has limited his participation in practice recently.
The goal for Thursday is to evaluate the bottom end of the roster. Typically teams sit their starters, or at least take them out after just a few series. The Patriots may end up playing their first time offensive and defensive lines a bit longer due to the struggles both units have had performing against opponents this preseason.
The Giants will be without two of their top defensive linemen who played critical parts in New York's victory over New England in the Super Bowl; Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan. Strahan retired and Umenyiora was lost for the season with a knee injury. New York must get a look at their young defensive lineman Mathias Kiwanuka who will move back from the
The roster has a few logjams at key positions:
Quarterback: Matt Cassel, Matt Gutierrez and Kevin O'Connell are battling for two roster spots behind Tom Brady. The decision for Scott Pioli and the Patriots personnel department will come down to consistency and potential upside. Cassel is in his fourth year for the Patriots, and has the most pressure to perform tonight. He completed 8 of 14 passes for 60 yards but only led the Patriots to a field goal last week against the Eagles. Cassel has yet to lead the team to a touchdown despite taking most of the snaps with the first team offense. Gutierrez is Cassel's primary competition, and has fared slightly better. Gutierrez has completed 24 of 36 passes for 293 yards 2 TDs and one INT.
Running Back: Laurence Maroney has to get on track soon. The former first round pick isn't in danger of being cut, but he'll likely play second fiddle to the other back Sammy Morris or LaMont Jordan whomever wins the starting spot. Kevin Faulk should be safe as the reliable third down back he's been since the Patriots selected him in the second round other the 1999 NFL Draft. Heath Evans remains the lone fullback on the roster after Kyle Eckel was waived earlier in the week.
Defensive Line: The starters are set with Vince Wilfork, Richard Seymour and Ty Warren, but the backups remain a concern. Mike Wright and Jarvis Green are expected to secure their roster spots but after them, the competition is open. Le Kevin Smith hasn't played in over a week. Santonio Thomas has quietly performed at the bottom end of the roster for three seasons, and needs to have a good game to keep his job. Another name to keep an eye on is Kenny Smith. Smith was in camp with New England last season.
Linebackers: The Patriots first round pick Jerod Mayo appears to have won the starting job opposite Tedy Bruschi. The player he put in jeopardy of a roster spot is Victor Hobson who fell out of his starting spot. Undrafted rookie Gary Guyton is pushing for a reserve role and in his way is Larry Izzo and Eric Alexander. Rookie Shawn Crable is having a solid preseason and appears to have won a role as a rush specialist.
Secondary: The push to replace Randall Gay and Asante Samuel caused the Patriots to select a pair of cornerbacks in the Draft; Terrence Wheatley (2nd round) and Jonathan Wilhite (4th round). Free agent acquisitions Lewis Sanders, Fernando Bryant and Jason Webster were signed before the Draft, but Webster was released this week while Sanders has missed some playing time due to injury. Bryant appears to have won the starting role opposite Ellis Hobbs.
At safety, the logjam continues with John Lynch, Rodney Harrison and James Sanders expected to see the most action in various coverage packages. Brandon Meriweather will be the group's primary backup. Mark Dillard and Antwain Spann must show something tonight to have a chance at a roster spot as Matt Slater seems to have secured his own.
Roster cuts come Aug 30th. Practice squads can be formed on August 31st. The Patriot regular season opener is at Gillette Stadium Sunday Septermber 7, 2008 against the Kansas City Chiefs
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