Hey, a weekend game in the South on a day Chick-Fil-A is open!
For the second straight week, the Patriots will face an opponent after practicing jointly with them for two days. New England and Houston have plenty of recent history, having faced each other in Week 3 and the Divisional Round last year; their preseason assignment and practices are a continuation of there camaraderie. But of course the preseason is not about connecting with old friends, as there is football to be played and rosters to be formed. Here are five less-emphasized players to keep an eye on come Saturday.
Damarius Travis, S: Jordan Richards’ struggles against Jacksonville took focus off Travis’ strong play from the safety spot, the Minnesota UDFA finishing as Pro Football Focus’ fourth-highest graded Patriot of the game. An apparent injury (he practiced non-contact on Monday) may limit his progress, but if Richards continues to play poorly and Travis continues his quality snaps, he could have a chance at not just a spot on the practice squad but on the 53-man roster. Most projections have Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon locked into key roles along with special teamers Nate Ebner and Brandon King, so if Travis is to make the squad, it will almost certainly be as a developmental sixth safety. The positive focus last week was on wide receiver Austin Carr and tight end Jacob Hollister, but Travis is definitely an under-the-radar player to watch.
D.J. Killings, CB: Another less-noticed Patriot who showed some solid play in the Jacksonville game, Killings has been generally quieter in camp but did come up with a key run stop last Thursday. Bill Belichick likes his corners to be able to stop the run, so that could be a positive sign for Killings’ future with the Patriots. Of course, it takes more than one play for anyone to make the team, so it will take sustained strong play for Killings to demonstrate that he is more than a practice squad-caliber player, or worse, a camp body.
Caleb Kidder, DE: As with Adam Butler’s appearance on this list last week, Kidder’s inclusion is more in regards to the lack of depth on the defensive edge, especially with injuries to Deatrich Wise Jr., Derek Rivers, and Kony Ealy. New England signed Keionta Davis, but he has yet to practice with the team, so he will almost certainly not play Saturday. Highly-recruited linebacker Harvey Langi has played mostly on the defensive edge, but Kidder, now the second-to-last man on the depth chart, could receive plenty of snaps against the Texans. Kidder has almost zero expectations from outside observers, which (this is not a prediction of what he will do) makes him a candidate to surprise out of nowhere.
Jamil Douglas, G: One of last year’s practice-squad guards, Douglas’ 2016 experience in the New England system makes him an outside candidate to claim a roster spot. Here, I am going off on a tangent. I was going to write about how Douglas has been exclusively a backup here, but doesn’t have the versatility of Ted Karras, but may show enough to stick around, and then I realized that reminded me of Chris Barker. Whether this makes you want to root for Douglas more or less depends on your feelings towards Barker.
Sam Cotton, TE: Of the two tight ends signed by New England this year as UDFAs, Jacob Hollister is the better receiver of the two, while Cotton is the blocking specialist. While Cotton is sixth on the six-man depth chart, Belichick has traditionally used his third tight end as a blocker, meaning the chances of the ex-Cornhusker sticking around (most likely on the practice squad) are not as low as might be thought.