Malcolm Butler has picked up right where he left off from last February's Super Bowl.Getty Images

The Patriots are in West Virginia participating in joint practices with the New Orleans Saints before the two teams go at it Saturday night.

Forthe Patriots, this is business as usual. They have at least one joint practice during every preseason – and it’s their third one against the Saints. Bill Belichick likes having his guys mix it up with another team. It gives them a chance to not only scout their own players better, but also players who may become available from the opposing team.

But while the Patriots are focusing on the Saints this week, they’re also beginning to look at film of early opponents in the regular season as well as their remaining preseason opponents.

“Really, now is the time of year when a lot of times you’re looking at three, four, five different teams – New Orleans, getting ahead on Carolina, the Giants, Pittsburgh, obviously – teams in the early part of the schedule just to kind of start to get a feel for them of what [they] did in the offseason,” Belichick said.”Is that kind of what we’re seeing now in training camp or preseason games from them?Are they doing something different?”


These are questions the Pats will hope to answer this week and the coming weeks. Let’s zone in on their game against the Saints.

1.Tom Brady or Jimmy Garoppolo?

Tom Brady ended up skipping Wednesday'sDeflategate hearingbecause he knew it was pointless and instead joined his team in West Virginia for practice. With all the hullabaloo surrounding Brady, it’ll be interesting to see how many drives he gets this weekend. He got just two in the first preseason game. That said, as of now he’s still suspended through the first four games, and Jimmy Garoppolo needs all the reps he can get.

2. Cornering Brees

Assuming Drew Brees gets some run against the Patriots, it’ll be a nice test for the secondary. By all accounts, Malcolm Butler has been the team’s best cornerback and his starting job looks like a lock. Newcomer Tarell Brown has also emerged from the group and is making a case for the other starting job. He didn’t play againstthe Packers but keep your eyes on Brown as he looks to limit Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who is all the rage right now. Rookie safety Jordan Richards has also impressed so far, playing in multiple spots against the Packers. He already looks like a Belichick guy.

3. Gronk, Amendola, and… ?

Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, and Scott Chandler have missed the majority, or all of camp, and don’t figure to play this weekend, either. Gronkowski was a healthy scratch againstthe Packers but should get some burn against the Saints. Meanwhile, pay attention to Josh Boyce, who had a roughoutingagainst the Packers.