4 things to watch out for in Thursday's pre-season games

By Rory Daniels

So, we got a taste of it last week with the Hall of Fame game, but it’s now time to get stuck into a full pre-season slate. It kicks off Thursday with a late-night double header for UK audiences. While many starters won’t see substantial playing time, the intriguing battles at the bottom end of the roster are worthy of a watch.

Let’s look at four things I will be watching closely for:

New England Patriots vs Houston Texans

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How good can Christian Gonzalez be?

A lot of the chatter around the Patriots will be if Bill O’Brien can step in and improve the disaster class that Matt Patricia trotted out on offense last year. But, with Mac Jones unlikely to see playing time, I will wait until closer to the season start for clues on that.

One player to keep an eye on is first-round pick Christian Gonzalez. The Oregon cornerback can rightly feel slighted, having lasted until pick 17. He has grasped that and run with it in training camp. The buzz is he has already solidified a starting role. 

That may mean he doesn’t get too many snaps, but the Pats will want to get him adjusted to the NFL. As one of my favourite draft prospects, I hope Gonzalez can become an elite corner at the next level.

Who will emerge from the Texans linebacker group?

For the Texans, CJ Stroud will take the headlines. The Texans have said Stroud will get snaps on Thursday, and even though it will likely be a reasonably bland Bill Belichick/Jerod Mayo defense he faces, it’s intriguing nonetheless. 

For me, though, the real draw is the Texans’ defense under the stewardship of DeMeco Ryans. It’s a young group with plenty of talent. That inexperience means Ryans will want to get active reps under their belt. The linebacker group, in particular, is worth a closer look.

There is some experience in Cory Littleton and Christian Kirksey, but I’m looking for one of two Alabama products to emerge. Like head coach Ryans, Henry To’o To’o and Christian Harris came up under the tutelage of Nick Saban and could be the long-term answer in the middle. Harris has the edge in his second year, but To’o To’o could surprise many.

Seattle Seahawks vs Minnesota Vikings

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How good is the Seahawks o-line and who will start at center?

Adding Jaxon Smith-Njigba and Zach Charbonnet to this Seahawks offense should help Geno Smith take another step. That said, a lot will depend on the offensive line in giving him the protection and time to make plays like last year. 

Both offensive tackles were rookies last year, and it’s naive to think they won’t have any bumps in the road in year 2. If you listen to the Athletic’s Football Show, you’ll know Nate Tice was bullish on the group and believed rookie Olu Oluwatimi could anchor the group from center. He is behind Evan Brown on the depth chart, so his performance will be intriguing.

What does the youthful Vikings secondary look like heading into 2023?

Everybody has the Vikings tagged as regression candidates. Their uncanny knack for winning close ones has left everybody feeling like their luck has to run out. I wouldn’t be sure Kirk Cousins can’t keep this offense ticking and make the NFC North interesting. 

The biggest question mark is the secondary. It is a young group, so there will be plenty of training camp battles. Lewis Cine will return from a season-ending injury. Will he be the same player that starred for Georgia? Can Andrew Booth Jr wrestle back his starting spot? I’d also take an outside bet on versatile rookie Jay Ward making an impression, whether at corner or safety.

Even though Thursday will involve many guys way down depth charts, it’s just good to have football back. Get the coffee ready and enjoy!

Mock Draft

Rory-Joe Daniels

Cfb contributor

formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com.