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Four Questions with New England Patriots Pats Pulpit

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Rich Hill of Pats Pulpit sits down and answers a few short questions leading up to the teams' first preseason game of the year.

Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Our friends over at Pats Pulpit were kind enough to answer a few questions heading into the first preseason game of the year between the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints.

1. What is the biggest takeaway you're looking for in this first game?

Most importantly, I want all the players to remain healthy. New England's been banged up in recent practices and this is a crucial time for players trying to learn the playbook.

But beyond that, I'll be looking at the Patriots offensive line combinations. Boring, I know. But last year, the Patriots offensive line was one of the worst in the entire league due to youth and injuries, so head coach Bill Belichick spent time adding players to the roster to bolster the quality. The Patriots spent an early 3rd round pick on Joe Thuney, who looks to be the starting left guard and he has received plenty of praise in camp. The team also acquired Jonathan Cooper from the Cardinals, but a foot injury will likely keep him out.

Other than those two, I'm also excited to see the growth from the young players. The team relied on numerous rookies (Shaq Mason, David Andrews, Tre Jackson) or promoted practice squad players (Josh Kline, Cameron Fleming) last season, so some obvious growth after a year of experience would be nice to see.

2. Which Patriots non-starters should Saints fans be paying attention?

Belichick has been lauding the depth of this roster over the past month, calling the tight end and safety depth the best he's ever had. I think that's the fun part about this Patriots roster- there are the obvious starters like Rob Gronkowski and Jamie Collins, but the difference in the 3rd player on the depth chart and the 6th isn't that great. And I mean that as a compliment to the 6th man, not as a slight to the 3rd.

I would specifically look at the Patriots edge defenders during the game because there is some nice depth on the roster. Rob Ninkovich injured his arm so his streak of 81 straight regular season starts is in jeopardy, but that opens the door for the depth behind him. The trio of Geneo Grissom, Trey Flowers, and Rufus Johnson all joined the team last year either in the draft or as a futures signing and they're behind Jabaal Sheard and Chris Long on the depth chart. They'll be fun to watch.

3. Which combination of units is more meaningful for Patriots fans game - Saints offensive vs Pats defense, or Pats offense vs Saints defense?

I think Patriots fans will be interested in the offensive side of the ball. They want to see how quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo plays and they want to know how the newly acquired tight end Martellus Bennett and wide receiver Chris Hogan adjust into the offense. They want to see the offensive line combinations. The Patriots top running back (Dion Lewis), top two wide receivers (Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola), and starting right tackle (Sebastian Vollmer) won't be playing, so how will the depth respond?

The defensive side of the ball is less interesting. There isn't much turnover from last season outside of on the defensive line, with edge defender Chandler Jones in Arizona and Ninkovich hurt, and with 3rd string defensive tackle Akiem Hicks in Chicago. The defense was young last season and now everyone has another year of experience playing together and there shouldn't be many surprises.

4. Over/under for how many times any -gate (BountyGate, SpyGate, DeflateGate) gets mentioned by local broadcasts?

If they don't make one mention per drive in the first quarter, I'll be shocked. They'll make one every time Tom Brady is on the field, and then during Garoppolo's first drive, and then again in the second half for good measure.

So what says you, Saints fans? If the same questions were posed to you, what would be your answers? Which Saints non-starters are you keeping an eye on? How many times do you think our local FOX guys will mention one of the -Gates? Tell us in the comments, and make sure to follow Pats Pulpit on Twitter @patspulpit. Send me presents.