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What to watch for in Friday's preseason games


The third week of the preseason is typically the most exciting. Teams alter their practices from training-camp mode into regular-season mode and begin preparing for specific opponents for the first time all year. Starters play longer and run a more realistic version of their playbook. Coaches try to handle the game through the lens of an actual game and not a dressed-up joint practice.

With that said, we're looking forward to a slate of games on Friday that should kick off the big weekend in style. Here are a few things we'll be watching for...

New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers, 7:30 p.m. ET

1. The Patriots will participate in quite possibly the most fascinating dress rehearsal we've ever seen. The team wants Tom Brady in control and to get him his mandated preseason snaps, but at this point they cannot ignore the overwhelming possibility that Jimmy Garoppolo will play a significant role in their early regular season. Over the past two preseason games, Brady has only played 16 snaps. How will that number differ Friday night?

Every game, all season

2. Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman doesn't draft bad pass rushers. During his long tenure with the New York Giants, he was the driving force behind some of the decade's best. And he also picked Kony Ealy, who needs to play a huge role in tonight's preseason game now that Frank Alexander is done for the season. The Patriots are the perfect test for this young, dynamic rusher given how fast they release the football. Ealy, a 2014 second-round pick, certainly has the speed to get there.

3. Will we see Reggie Wayne? The general consensus is no, but perhaps coach Bill Belichick will try and get him at least one snap with the starting offense in order to get his feet wet. Wayne has been spending most of New England's practices off to the side digesting what has become a machine of an offense under Josh McDaniels and Brady.

Detroit Lions at Jacksonville Jaguars, 8 p.m. (CBS)

1. Blake Bortles, and that's really what it has always been about for the Jaguars. If Bortles can take a step forward, the Jaguars will follow. He had an opportunity to dissect a beleaguered Giants secondary last week and was still a bit hesitant. Coach Gus Bradley wants to see a more dynamic side of his offense to supplement a promising defense.

2. The Lions, like the Eagles and Patriots, are taking good care of their stars, especially on offense. We have not seen Calvin Johnson thus far and there's a good chance we won't see him at all tonight. We will, however, see the Lions' starters creep past halftime, which will give us a more thorough opportunity to evaluate budding star Ameer Abdullah at running back as well as first-round pick Laken Tomlinson, who will make his starting debut.

3. It might be a fleeting subplot, but Bradley's defensive secondary was very physical against the Giants last week. If you ask Odell Beckham, the miniature Legion of Boom might have rubbed some people the wrong way. But after watching so much bad football in Jacksonville over the years, it will be refreshing to see if this unit can actually take on an identity and take over a game against arguably the league's most feared passing attack.

Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs, 8 p.m.

1. Marcus Mariota seems to be growing steadily, maybe even into the type of quarterback who can lift the Titans beyond some of their obvious shortcomings. Over two games and 40 snaps, he's completed 75 percent of his passes, though one of them was telegraphed enough to result in an interception. The microscope will be squarely on Mariota to produce extended drives in a bland, traditional offense. The bells and whistles can be added later and will depend heavily on how he looks tonight. Remember, he'll be operating against the most established pass rush he will see all season.

2. The Chiefs' offensive line has been disastrous so far and will look to dominate an underwhelming Titans front. Alex Smith doesn't have the peace of mind he'd like heading into the opener and neither does Jamaal Charles. Can they find a groove on Friday?

3. Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt still hasn't decided on his starting five offensive linemen, a dangerous proposition given that the team is starting a rookie quarterback and looking to pound the football. The group that included Byron Bell and Jeremiah Poutasi, though, looked decent against the Rams. Whisenhunt's life would be much easier if they do so again.


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