As the old saying goes: “Let the games begin.” (…sort of)
The New England Patriots are set to open their 2021 preseason slate on Thursday, August 12 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro Massachusetts. The Pats will welcome the Washington Football Team for the first, and only preseason contest to be held in New England this summer. With an expected capacity crowd to cheer on the hometown team, the Pats will continue to use each opportunity to learn, improve and prepare for the upcoming 2021 season.
Though many Patriots players are expected to garner some attention during Thursday’s matchup, here are three players that might raise an eyebrow… or perhaps, catch a ‘sharp eye’ when the Pats take the field against Washington.
The collective eyes of Patriots fandom, and media, will likely be focused on Jones when the Patriots take the field on Thursday. While there is still a degree of uncertainty regarding whether projected starter Cam Newton will make an appearance in this game, the rookie is expected to see a great deal of action. Jones has been quite impressive, thus far, in training camp. The 22 year-old has consistently demonstrated both poise and control. His quick-release, along with the ability to process plays in a timely and accurate manner has garnered the attention of fans and media alike. Still, Jones has yet to do so in a game setting. Truth be told, he has yet to be hit within an NFL environment. With Washington head coach Ron Rivera advising that he will be playing his starters on Thursday, Jones should get a good look at one of the NFL’s most formidable front sevens. One of the rookie’s strengths is fluid movement within the pocket. He will need to pull upon those skills if he hopes to evade a potent Washington pass rush.
Another prominent rookie looks to factor into the Patriots’ offensive game plan on Thursday, as well. Listed at 6’0” 230-pounds, Stevenson has the potential to be a dual-threat rusher with the Pats. He is a physical, powerful runner, yet athletic enough to make tacklers miss in short yardage. As such, many have conjectured that the former Oklahoma Sooner, may be a factor in New England’s offense as early as this season. However, it should be noted that the Patriots usually take a temporant and planned approach to developing young running backs. While he has performed well while running the ball in camp, his backfield-receiving skills have been slow to develop. When recently asked about the areas in which the rookie needs to improve, New England’s running backs coach, Ivan Fears replied “Everything.” That being said, there is no better way to test Stevenson than to give him the time to compete with Washington’s stout run defense. Should he see significant snaps on Thursday evening, it may indicate that New England plans on using him more often. If not, he might be headed for more of a ‘red-shirt’-type season in 2021.
Much to nearly everyone’s surprise, Harry continues to be among the most compelling stories of training camp. Through the first twelve camp practices, the former first-rounder has played at a high level. Not only has he showcased his ability to make athletic, contested catches, but he has also improved his route-running. Harry has clearly taken steps to improve his overall game, and it has been visible on the field. However, his true test will be whether his performance continues within an in-game environment. On Thursday, Harry should be well tested by a versatile Washington secondary. If he continues to play well, he might be on his way to increasing his ‘N’Keal Appeal’, either in New England, or for a potential trade suitor.