As usual, Patriots’ Head Coach Belichick has it all figured out. Forty Patriot players did not play in their preseason opener. Why? Besides the obvious injury concerns, Belichick is focused on figuring out who the last thirteen players on the roster will be and this is the best opportunity to do it.
By making sure that the bottom half of the roster was able to get film and reps in a high pressure situation, the Patriots’ coaching staff created an excellent opportunity to evaluate those players in contention for the last few roster spots. The top end of the roster was able to get plenty of reps against the Jaguars in a more controlled setting during combined practices throughout the week. They will get live reps as the preseason goes on, but playing the lower level guys early allowed the Patriots’ coaching staff to see who they should be taking a closer look at and who might not be ready for the bright lights. Tom Brady and Brandin Cooks will still be around in a few weeks, but many of the other guys will not. Belichick is trying to determine which of the other guys should still be there with Brady and Cooks.
Guys like wide receiver Austin Carr, tight end Jacob Hollister, and offensive lineman Cole Croston are definitely on Belichick’s radar after last week. With eleven receivers, six tight ends, and seventeen offensive linemen currently on the roster, it would be pretty easy for these undrafted rookies to be overlooked without this type of opportunity. While they are still very far away from earning a roster spot, don’t be surprised if they get mixed in with the veterans in the near future.
So why was Dion Lewis playing? He is certainly a more well-known name in New England than Carr, Hollister, and Croston. Lewis is extremely talented and has shown explosiveness when he is healthy, but he is definitely at risk of losing his roster spot. The Patriots recently signed James White to an extension and brought in free agents Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead this off-season. While Lewis could be competing for one of the last spots, maybe this was a different sort of audition. Perhaps the idea was to showcase his health and abilities in anticipation of a trade later in preseason.
While many teams around the league sat their top players for their first preseason game, as with a lot of things in the NFL nobody does it quite like the Patriots. The Patriots were able to get some great evaluation film on the players who they are least familiar with. In doing so they will have a better idea of how to evaluate their roster as they begin making cuts and determining who gets those last few roster spots.