Two weeks and one game.
That’s all that separates the Patriots from their regular-season opener against Miami.
Until then, there’s business to settle. The Pats must finish their preseason slate Sunday with a 6 p.m. kickoff at the Giants, a game New York plans to treat as “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. Will Bill Belichick take the same approach?
Here are five things to watch in the finale.
1. Cam Newton’s reps
Since he missed five days after breaking the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols for players who are not fully vaccinated, Newton has practiced twice.
He resumed his starting role in Thursday’s joint session with the Giants, taking the first reps in a 7-on-7 period and captaining the Pats’ first offensive series of an ensuing scrimmage. On Friday, he was present for a shorts-and-shells practice, the team’s last of training camp.
With two days of prep, Newton should be expected to play, but his total reps bear watching. In Thursday’s practice, he was afforded the same opportunity with the starting offense as Mac Jones, who in prior practices had been taking fewer reps with the first team. From an outside view, Jones pulled even with Newton in their quarterback competition this summer.
If the rookie out-performs him over a similar number of snaps — or Newton is limited to two series or fewer — that might put Jones over the top for the starting job.
2. Wide receiver hierarchy
Between Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne, the Patriots spent almost $24 million guaranteed to upgrade their receiving corps this offseason. Five months later, Jakobi Meyers remains their best wideout.
Meyers was by far the team’s most consistent and productive receiver through training camp. He and Bourne closed the summer on a high note, leading all teammates in receptions during each joint practice against the Giants. Meanwhile, Agholor faded, catching just one pass on Thursday.
Agholor was the talk of camp over the first week, regularly scorching the Pats secondary for deep balls in team drills. Then, he was sidelined with an unspecified injury, and his play waned.
Do the Patriots give Agholor, the presumed No. 1 wideout entering camp, more snaps to make up for lost time?
3. Swing tackle battle
After impressing in multiple positions over his rookie season, second-year offensive tackle Justin Herron looked ticketed for the Patriots’ swing tackle job this summer. Not so fast.
Former third-round pick Yodny Cajuste has pushed his way into the conversation with a strong performance in the Pats’ second preseason game at Philadelphia and ensuing impressive practices. Cajuste lined up at left and right tackle during joint practices this week. The tiebreaker between the two may be who’s the best right tackle, a position Trent Brown will start but could move from if/when oft-injured left tackle Isaiah Wynn gets hurt.
Earlier this week, Belichick praised Brown’s ability to play both positions, indicating the 6-foot-8, 380-pounder is next in line at left tackle, whereas the Pats’ Plan B at right tackle is a little less clear.
“It’s probably like the switch-hitter that hits .300 from both sides of the plate. It’s hard to find those guys,” Belichick said. “Honestly, you’re happy if you can find one that’s really good at one or the other. Trent’s done a good job of not only reacclimating himself, but say bringing a good level of leadership and toughness and dependability to the team that I think everybody respects, I know everybody respects and appreciates. He’s ready to go.
4. Joejuan Williams’ farewell?
After one practice, it’s highly unlikely new rookie corner Shaun Wade will make his Patriots debut Sunday.
Nonetheless, Wade should be counted as a virtual lock for the final 53-man roster.
That leaves third-year corner Joejuan Williams fending off fellow reserves Michael Jackson and Dee Virgin for a backup role. The Pats have taken a long look at Williams this preseason, playing him more than anyone else on the roster. And life could get harder for him soon.
If Stephon Gilmore returns next week, the Pats will have five cornerbacks available for Week 1: Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, Jalen Mills, Jonathan Jones and Wade. If not, Williams’ odds of making the active roster should increase. He’ll need an impressive finale to move those percentages regardless of Gilmore’s situation.
Because after N’Keal Harry, he’s ranked among the Pats’ top draft misses in recent years.
5. Core special-teamers
The shortest road to a roster spot in New England is carving out a role on special teams.
Two years ago, that’s how a former Division II corner Gunner Olszewski made the team after taking baby steps in his ongoing transition to wide receiver. Now, he’s a reigning All-Pro punt returner.
Backup linebacker Harvey Langi seems like he’s secured a spot with his defensive playmaking this preseason and appearance on most special teams units. Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel and Cody Davis are already locks, leaving little space for other niche players — even longtime special teams stalwart Brandon King.