Quick Hitters: Patriots vs. Panthers game preview

The Patriots are in Carolina to take on Panthers tonight in Week 3 of the preseason, otherwise known as the only preseason game every August that emulates actual football.

Save for those on the shelf due to injury, most of the #1's will be on the field tonight for New England, and yes, even quarterback Tom Brady.

The split between Brady and backup Jimmy Garoppolo will be the biggest talking point going into and coming out of this game, and early indications are that Brady will play (at least) the first half of the game. As CSNNE's Phil Perry points out, in the past five seasons, Brady has not only played up until the second half in Week 3 of the preseason, he's played into the third quarter three times and the fourth quarter once.

Garoppolo shined Saturday against the Saints and will be looking to build off his efficient, poised play against the Panthers. How much time will he get on the field tonight, who will he be playing in front of and who will he be throwing against?

But the QB reps isn't the only area that needs watchin' tonight AND NOT BY A MILE. Here are a couple of other quick hitters to make a note of as the game progresses:

The Third Down Back Battle

Where before it seemed James White was in pole position to land the third-down back role, Dion Lewis pulled even with his counterpart with a very strong performance against the Saints. Lewis ran for 23 yards and a touchdown on seven carries while also grabbing five balls for 36 yards. White meanwhile carried the rock nine times for 23 yards and a TD while chipping in with a 20-yard scamper on his only catch of the game. Both players are pushing themselves trying to top each others' production and the position could very well be won tonight with whoever has the stronger game. Of course, the duo will probably match each other yet again and we'll be in the same spot heading into Week 4 as the final test.

Dion Lewis made a loud statement Saturday vs. the Saints that he's ready to fight for a spot in the lineup (via USA Today)

Plenty of Notable Name On the Shelf

Players that aren't expected to play tonight include: receivers Julian Edelman, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, tight ends Ron Gronkowski and Scott Chandler, center Bryan Stork, tackle Marcus Cannon, and linebacker Dont'a Hightower.

Meanwhile, Reggie Wayne is expected to be in uniform tonight, which should concern the likes of Boyce and Dobson. For a 36-year-old receiver to show up earlier in the week and hit the field on Friday while Boyce and Dobson have still yet to get off the ground this camp, you have to wonder how much shorter the leash is gonna get for those two.

Cornerback Rotation

Will we see Devin McCourty start at right corner? Will Tarell Brown instead slide into the position? The only certainty with the corners seems to be that Malcolm Butler will start over on the left again. Will it be Logan Ryan starting on the right? Ryan has struggled mightily through the first two games of the preseason and if he's playing late in the contest it'll be a pretty glaring sign that the third-year man is on the bubble as we continue to roll towards the start of the season.

Setting the Table At O-Line

Right guard Ryan Wendell has been removed from the PUP list and returned to practice this week, but he finds a certain rookie that's been playing in his spot through the month: Tre' Jackson. Jackson has played with the first-team all camp and through the first two games of the preseason and it'll be interesting to see how much time each of them see on the left or the right. Stork should be ready to go for the season opener but the two men who'll flank him is yet to be decided. Will it be Wendell returning to his position and Jackson on the left, or vice-versa? At the moment, it's actually Josh Kline who's listed as the starting left guard on the Patriots unofficial depth chart and Wendell on the right. Pay attention to the rotations throughout the contest...

Where will Jackson see time tonight?

In the dress rehearsal to the September 10 kickoff against the Steelers,  there's plenty to look forward to tonight against the Black Cats. How the QB reps are split, how the RBs perform, how the cornerbacks settle into their positions and how the offensive line shakes out between rookies and vets.

Above everything, also remember that we only have one more preseason game to go until things get going for real.

Enjoy the football tonight Pats Nation!

Photo credit: Bleacher Report, MassLive