Three things to watch for Thursday (7:30 p.m., CBS-4) when the Patriots take on the Redskins in the first of four preseason games:
Brandon Spikes is with former Pats defensive assistant Pepper Johnson in Buffalo. But Spikes didn’t figure to fit into the Pats’ 2014 plans anyway, with Jerod Mayo, Don't’a Hightower and Jamie Collins as the starters.
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Veterans James Anderson (formerly with Panthers and Bears), Chris White (formerly with Bills), Darius Fleming (formerly with 49ers), Steve Beauharnais, Ja’Gared Davis and rookies Taylor McCuller and James Morris should see plenty of time against the Redskins at linebacker.
As the Pats found out the hard way - with Mayo going down halfway through the season in 2013 - this is a position where depth is needed.
Brandon LaFell made the highlight play of the Redskins-Patriots joint practices this week with a one-handed touchdown grab in the back of the end zone. The Patriots need a “big” receiver to step up as Brady was forced to throw non-stop to tiny targets like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola last year. LaFell has the inside track out wide, particularly with Aaron Dobson still nursing a bum foot.
Brady seemingly lost faith in then-rookie Kenbrell Thompkins in the second half of last season as he targeted Thompkins just 14 times after a late October game against Miami. In contrast, Brady targeted Thompkins 55 times prior to that game. But Thompkins has had a solid camp thus far and will be battling it out with fellow second-year man Josh Boyce for a roster spot.
Mallett vs. Garoppolo
There was once a train of thought that the Patriots were grooming and showcasing Brian Hoyer in the preseason to get a solid draft pick in return for his services. Instead, Hoyer was flat-out released at the end of training camp two years ago with the Pats getting nothing in return. Ryan Mallett seemingly has higher stock across the league than Hoyer did at the time, but Bill Belichick has never been shy about making a harsh roster slice on cut-down day.
There’s no way that second round pick Jimmy Garoppolo is cut, simply because he’s a fresh second round pick. In four of the past five years the Patriots have kept only two quarterbacks on their roster.