What to watch for in first weekend of NFL preseason

The NFL’s 2015 preseason schedule begins in earnest Thursday evening and continues through Sunday afternoon. Though the games don’t count in the standings, plenty of delectable hors d’oeuvres will be on this weekend’s menu, so bring a healthy appetite:

Understudy Jimmy Garoppolo begins rehearsing for opening night: As a rookie in 2014, the second-round pick out of Eastern Illinois won the New England Patriots’ backup quarterback job. Now it’s time to prove he was worthy of coach Bill Belichick’s faith as Garoppolo continues his preparation to potentially be the team’s Week 1 starter while reigning Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady’s legal drama continues to unfold. Garoppolo’s first test comes against 2014 league MVP Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night – exactly four weeks before the Super Bowl XLIX champions open the regular season against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 10 – in front of the home fans in Foxborough, Mass.

New York Jets take their drama off-Broadway: Maybe veteran QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s ascension as the starting quarterback for a defensively-oriented club seemed inevitable. But who would have expected him to inherit the job because maligned Geno Smith had his jaw broken by a teammate in the locker room Tuesday? Fitzpatrick previously played for offensive coordinator Chan Gailey when both were in Buffalo and needed to knock the rust off anyway after his 2014 season was ended abruptly by a broken leg. Headline makers Darrelle Revis and Brandon Marshall could also be in uniform on the road Thursday at the Detroit Lions following their offseason acquisitions while first-year Jets coach Todd Bowles makes his sideline debut.

Shrink wrap comes off the rooks: The annual crop of incoming NFL freshmen will begin finding their sea legs. But the spotlight will shine brightest on top pick Jameis Winston as he leads the Tampa Buccaneers against the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday and No. 2 selection Marcus Mariota, whose Tennessee Titans visit the Atlanta Falcons on Friday. Winston could see a stiffer defensive challenge from Mike Zimmer’s blossoming group. But Mariota’s progress transitioning from Oregon’s spread attack to the pro game should pique more curiosity.

Questions in the NFC East: How will the reigning division champion Dallas Cowboys look without 2014 rushing king DeMarco Murray? How will Murray’s new team, the Philadelphia Eagles, begin their evolution with him and so many other major additions, notably QB Sam Bradford, LB Kiko Alonso and CB Byron Maxwell? Might a potentially explosive New York Giants offense stall as it searches for the right combination on the offensive line? Will Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III begin re-establishing himself as the franchise savior the team thought it was getting at great expense in 2012? Good bet this division is wide open this year.

Hard Luck at Hard Knocks: The Houston Texans, who are starring this year in HBO’s annual training camp docudrama, debut Saturday night (without injured RB Arian Foster) and officially kick off their Brian Hoyer vs. Ryan Mallett quarterback battle by hosting the virtually unrecognizable San Francisco 49ers, who have been hemorrhaging starters for a multitude of reasons – the release of troubled OLB Aldon Smith being the most recent – since the end of the 2014 season. The Niners are also starting fresh under coach Jim Tomsula now that Jim Harbaugh has taken his khakis to the University of Michigan.

Rex 2.0: Buffalo Bills coach Rex Ryan will be one of seven new head coaches (Bowles, Oakland Raiders’ Jack Del Rio, Chicago Bears’ John Fox, Denver Broncos’ Gary Kubiak, Falcons’ Dan Quinn, Tomsula) donning the headset in their new colors. Ryan takes over a talented roster but needs Matt Cassel, EJ Manuel or Tyrod Taylor to emerge from a three-way quarterback battle if the Bills are to make their first playoff appearance of the 21st century. Cassel gets the nod in the preseason opener.

Resurrection of Tebowmania? The weekend schedule concludes Sunday afternoon when the Eagles host the Indianapolis Colts. Bradford could make his debut in green amid his ongoing recovery from ACL tears in consecutive years when he was a St. Louis Ram. But there’s little doubt the Eagles will trot out backup quarterback Tim Tebow, who should see his first NFL game action since the Patriots cut him during the 2013 preseason.

Source: MSN Sports

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

scroll to top