Thursday Night Football: Players to track in NFL preseason Week 1

By Rachel Wold

It’s not September yet, but for football enthusiasts, it is the first week of the NFL preseason, which kicks off Thursday night with six matchups. Even though we won’t see much action from the team’s starters, we’ll take in all we can by observing some of the team’s rookies or lower-string players who will desperately be battling for backup roles or fighting to make the their team’s final roster.

Here are some things to watch for in the six Thursday Night preseason games.

New England Patriots host the Green Bay Packers

All eyes will be on backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who should get increased play time while Tom Brady is expected to sit out. He will have the chance to connect with some of the starters such as tight end Rob Gronkowski, whose snaps will be limited in Thursday’s game. No doubt Garoppolo will be feeling the pressure once he hits the field.

The Packers starters such as Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson won’t play much. However we should see some competition from second-year receiver Davante Adams and rookie wideout Ty Montgomery, who has been impressive so far in training camp.

Baltimore Ravens host the New Orleans Saints

It’s a night to keep an eye on both team’s wide receivers. The Saints have second-season Brandin Cooks followed by Nick Toon and Brandon Coleman fighting for the team’s No. 2 spot.

Cooks was impressive in his rookie debut in 2014 until he broke his thumb which ended his season prematurely.

Unfortunately, the Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman is likely to be out. We’ll see some of the team’s backups such as Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanaro and Jeremy Butler duke it out for attention in Thursday’s game.

Somebody has to pick up the slack and help out starter Steve Smith when he enters the scene in September.

Chicago Bears host the Miami Dolphins

It is unfortunate that we cannot witness the team’s rookie first-round pick wide receiver Kevin White (who is on the PUP list) in action. With that, we will probably get a small sampling of veteran Eddie Royal playing opposite Alshon Jeffery before the backups, including Marquess Wilson, hit the field.

The Dolphins will feature second-season running back Damien Williams who is making strides and competing for the spot behind starter Lamar Miller.

Cleveland Browns host the Washington Redskins

It’s Johnny Football time, and Manziel could play a large portion of the first half of the game on Thursday evening. Hopefully a sore elbow won’t hamper him in his much-needed moments to shine.

And, speaking of hampered quarterbacks, it should be nail-biting to watch Robert Griffin III play in a few limited drives at the beginning of the game. Hopefully, the team brings some extra bubble wrap to Cleveland for tonight’s game.

Detroit Lions host the New York Jets

The Jets—thin at the quarterback position—will probably give the reigns to their rookie fourth-round pick quarterback Bryce Petty, then Jake Heaps, once Ryan Fitzpatrick takes his handful of opening snaps.

This will be Petty’s opportunity impress a team that has been skeptical at his starting skills thus far over the summer. It will also be running back Zac Stacy’s job to show the team he is worth keeping on the final roster which includes much depth at the position. Stacy sought a trade after his former St. Louis Rams team drafted Todd Gurley in the 2015 NFL Draft.

As for the Lions, we are all excited to see if rookie running back Ameer Abdullah lives up to the hype he has created so far during training camp. If so, he’s going to give starter Joique Bell and fellow running back Theo Riddick a run for their money come September.

San Diego Chargers host the Dallas Cowboys

We likely won’t get to see as much of the Chargers rookie running back Melvin Gordon as we would like to in Thursday’s game. So, we’ll have to take in all we can from his limited snap count to get a small sampling of what he will bring to the table next month.

A big question mark involves who will be running the ball for the Cowboys due to their disastrous running back situation. The team will rely heavily on undrafted free agent Gus Johnson for the honors in Thursday night’s game. Should he turn heads, he would make a case for a roster spot behind Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar and Darren McFadden.

Pass rusher Greg Hardy, with a big chip on his shoulder, will make a brief appearance with his new team on Thursday evening.

For those who are excited about the start of the regular season, these preseason matchups should provide us a little satisfaction to help cure our addiction to the game.