Five things to watch vs. the Lions
1. More beef: Shaun Ellis and Albert Haynesworth returned to practice this week. If Bill Belichick decides to play them, it will be illuminating to see how he uses each. Will the Patriots be more of an under front with Vince Wilfork shading the nose tackle? Does Ellis have enough to play the first two downs at end, or will he just be a sub pass rusher on the inside?
2. Rookies on display: Cornerback Ras-I Dowling and running back Shane Vereen, both second-round picks, combined to practice all of 2 1/2 days before returning this week. Will they play? Can they help now? We’re all waiting to see.
3. No offense: The Lions won’t have end Kyle Vanden Bosch or rookie tackle Nick Fairley on defense, but with players such as Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, and Cliff Avril up front, this will still be a very good test for the Patriots’ offensive line. The line had trouble with the Buccaneers’ interior pressure last week.
4. How the secondary turns: Probably no section of the roster has more moving parts than the defensive backfield, where Dowling, James Sanders, and Josh Barrett have returned from injuries. Brandon Meriweather is facing a challenge from Sergio Brown, and Sanders, Darius Butler, and Jonathan Wilhite are battling for a roster spot as Dowling tries to prove himself worthy of playing time.
5. On the spot: Receiver Brandon Tate could also be back in the lineup and needs to show explosion on kickoffs and an increased comfort level in the passing game to nail down a spot.
GREG A. BEDARD