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Thursday, August 13, 2009
Huge preseason game? Better believe it


Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham

PHILADELPHIA -- As far as NFL exhibitions go, this one's a biggie.

The final score won't matter one iota. In fact, the most significant news will take place well before halftime in Thursday night's preseason game between the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.

Tom Brady is back, and we finally get a legitimate idea to what extent.

Brady will be making his first appearance against live competition since he tore two left knee ligaments in last year's opener. Since he didn't play in any preseason games in 2008, he'll also be playing only his second game since losing Super Bowl XLII.

Brady hasn't performed like a quarterback on a reconstructed knee. He has looked comfortable throughout training camp, but the physical part of recovery is one thing. The mental side is another.

With that in mind, here are the top storylines to watch for:

1. How does Brady handle a live pass rush? Keep an eye out for whether Brady gets skittish in the pocket. If he maintains his usually sound mechanics under pressure, Patriot Nation should be pleased.

2. How long will Bill Belichick leave Brady in the game? Brady has said he wants to play as much as possible in the preseason. It will be interesting to see if Brady makes a case for more snaps if Belichick pulls him quickly. Another consideration will be the slick conditions. Rain has been falling in Philadelphia much of the day, and while a tarp has covered Lincoln Financial Field's grass surface, the field is known as one of the NFL's diciest.

3. What does Derrick Burgess look like? The new pass-rusher, acquired last week in a trade with the Oakland Raiders, is expected to play. He was a defensive end in Oakland but is an outside linebacker in New England's 3-4 setup. Monitor how Belichick uses him in different packages.

4. How does Belichick handle the running backs? Fred Taylor, Laurence Maroney, Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, BenJarvus Green-Ellis ... There aren't enough touches to go around.

5. Who is Julian Edelman? The seventh-round draft pick from Kent State is a converted quarterback the Patriots have been granting quality reps at receiver and as a punt returner. Many think of him as a developing Wes Welker-type. Edelman could be fun to watch.

6. How do the backup quarterbacks look? Belichick signed free agent Andrew Walter last week to compete with 2008 third-round draft pick Kevin O'Connell. With no guarantees about Brady's knee, No. 2 quarterback is a critical position for the Patriots to consider. That hasn't been a major preseason issue for them in a long, long while.