Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will take the field for the first time since the NFL's longest work stoppage ended in July as they face the Jacksonville Jaguars in their preseason opener at 7:30 p.m. EDT at Gillette Stadium.
Brady and company have been hard at work, going through the rigors of training camp over the past few weeks in preparation for the 2011 regular season, which begins unofficially on Thursday night.
For the Patriots, there are several angles to watch in this game. First and foremost, all eyes will be on Brady, the league's reigning MVP, as he will be playing in a game for the first time since having offseason foot surgery.
Brady hasn't exhibited any signs of foot pain during training camp, but has shown signs of rust as hasn't been as sharp as he usually hopes to be, missing his targets from time to time. Yet with Brady, you rarely have to worry.
In true preseason fashion, Brady isn't expected to see a lot of time under center in the first preseason game, making the battle between backup quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and rookie Ryan Mallett very intriguing.
Hoyer has shown flashes of solid play in his first two seasons in the league, both of which he has spent as a backup to Brady. In 10 career games, Hoyer has thrown for 122 yards and one TD, completing 26-of-42 passes.
As for Mallet, a start quarterback at the University of Arkansas, no one has ever questioned the level of talent he possesses, it's just a matter of molding his ability to make him into a quality NFL quarterback.
While Mallet has an extremely powerful arm, his accuracy needs work, and he has even been called 'lost' at points throughout Patriots' training camp.
Of course, there is also the debut of veteran wide receiver Chad Ochocinco to address. Ever since being traded to New England this offseason, Ochocinco has said all of the right things and has insisted he is dedicated to winning.
In addition to Ochocinco and the quarterback rotation, the Patriots' defensive base is worth watching. With the acquisition of Albert Haynesworth, Shaun Ellis and Andre Carter, it's suspected that Belichick will be using a 4-3 base defense this year.
Even though many analysts believe this will be Belichick's route, some still think that the Patriots will stick with a 3-4, which Belichick has used for the majority of his time in New England.
On the other sideline, the top story for the Jaguars will be the debut of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who is starting in place of David Garrard, who suffered an injury that coach Jack Del Rio pegged as "nothing major."
In addition, the Jags made a stir on Thursday by signing free agent defensive end/linebacker Matt Roth - who many had going to the Patriots - to a one-year deal worth $3 million. No word on whether or not Roth will play.
There will be plenty more storylines from this game, and for more Pats' angles, check out this preview at Pats Pulpit, the SB Nation Patriots' blog. Here the game preview over at Big Cat County, the SB Nation Jaguars blog.
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