The New England Patriots meet the Carolina Panthers on Friday night in a Week-3 preseason game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte. Both clubs are looking to analyze depth before the start of the regular season on Sept. 13, but they may also seek to make adjustments to their offense.
That’s where things get a bit tricky for the Patriots as quarterback Tom Brady continues to battle with the NFL over his “Deflategate” suspension while back-up Jimmy Garoppolo preps for the starting role. How much time head coach Bill Belichick divvies out between Brady and Garoppolo, as well as Ryan Lindley, will be an interesting storyline.
Garoppolo has already thrown 63 passes, while Brady has thrown nine. Lindley has yet to throw a pass in preseason.
As for the Panthers, the running game has drawn some attention. Rookie Brandon Wegher has played well in preseason, but may still not make the roster. Fifth-round pick Cameron Artis-Payne could also receive some added playing time before the season starts.
Here’s the latest on each team’s injuries and several players to watch.
New England’s had one of the more injury-marred training camps of any team in the league thus far, but did receive some good news earlier this week. Such key contributors to last season’s Super Bowl run like receivers Julian Edelman and Aaron Dobson, and offensive lineman Ryan Wendell made their returns to practice this week. But Wendell’s playing status might still be in the air as he comes off the PUP list.
The Patriots also welcomed running back Travaris Cadet, tight end Scott Chandler, rookie defensive end Trey Flowers, second-year pass rusher Rufus Johnson, and offensive lineman Caylin Hauptman back to practice.
Still, 10 players were held out of practice earlier this week, even though it was an improvement from as many as 23 sitting down in the first couple weeks of camp. New England could also miss receiver Brandon LaFell, cornerback Darryl Roberts, defensive lineman Chris Jones, and offensive men Marcus Cannon, Bryan Stork, and Chris Barker.
The Panthers also received a shot of good health with starting defensive end Charles Johnson and rookie receiver Devin Funchess each participating in team drills and almost ready to return to the field full-time, according to the Charlotte Observer.
Carolina head coach Ron Rivera suggested Johnson could play against New England after sitting out the first two exhibitions with a calf strain, while Funchess comes off a hamstring injury that kept him out against Miami.
Rivera remains positive that defensive tackle Star Lotulelei will play in the season opener, but expressed some concern that Lotulelei will be in proper condition after suffering a foot injury. The Panthers are also being cautious with center Ryan Kalil, who suffered a sprained knee and will miss the rest of the preseason.
Players To Watch
Garoppolo will be the main focus. New England fans have been treated to a much-improved Garoppolo, as the 23-year-old completed better than 76 percent of his passes in the first two games, perhaps instilling the kind of confidence necessary in supporters fretting over Brady potentially missing the first four games of the season.
Wendell, though a six-year veteran who’s played both center and right guard, could find his roster or starting spot up for grabs due to missing so much time. If he does sit, New England could go with Josh Kline or Cameron Fleming at guard with rookie Tre Jackson on the other side, NESN.com reports.
Lafell, Edelman, and Dobson’s injury has also allowed receiver Chris Harper to excel with 12 receptions for 117 yards, and he’ll certainly be fighting for a spot.
The Panthers suffered a serious blow when receiver Kelvin Benjamin was lost for the season with a torn ACL, which makes Funchess’ return and development dire to the team’s success before the regular season. Second-year receiver Brenton Bersin could make some noise for a roster spot, as well as former Green Bay Packer Jarrett Boykin.
Lotulelei’s injury likely means more time for veteran Colin Cole at defensive tackle, with Kyle Love and rookie Terry Redden next up on the depth chart.
The growth of rookie linebackers Shaq Thompson and David Mayo will also be something to watch throughout.
Kickoff Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channels: WBZ (New England) and PTVN (Carolina)
Live Online: NFL Game Pass