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NFL Five things to watch for during pre-season

All eyes will be on rookie quarterbacks, injuries, the Patriots, Bills and 49ers as the NFL pre-season kicks into gear.

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Five things to watch for during NFL pre-season play

Five things to watch for during NFL pre-season

(Omni Sports)

The NFL pre-season got underway on Sunday with the Hall of Fame game and will continue on Thursday with six games.

The marquee match-up will be the Green Bay Packers visiting Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Patriots, but do not expect to see much from either Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady in the pre-season opener.

NFL coaches use the pre-season largely to evaluate fringe roster players, but it is also an opportunity for veterans to fine-tune their skills before the regular season.

The biggest things teams want to accomplish during the month-long pre-season schedule is to come out of it healthy.

While each team have their own storylines, we look at five things to watch during the NFL pre-season.

Which rookie quarterback will play best?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Tennessee Titans picked 1-2 in April's NFL Draft and used those selections on quarterbacks Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, respectively. While most established players like Rodgers and Brady will see minimal time in the pre-season, the Tampa and Tennessee coaches will want to see how well the rookies play against NFL opponents.

Winston, the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner, immediately dove into the Tampa playbook and has been on fire so far during camp. Mariota, the 2014 Heisman winner, has also performed well during training camp. He has yet to throw an interception, but that is just in practice. We will see what happens when the Titans open the pre-season schedule on Friday at the Atlanta Falcons. The Bucs play their first pre-season game on Saturday at the Minnesota Vikings.

Will teams be able to avoid significant injuries?
Before any pre-season games have been played, teams have already lost players to injuries. Philadelphia Eagles rookie cornerback JaCorey Shepherd suffered a torn ACL on Sunday. Houston Texans running back Arian Foster could miss up to three months with a groin injury. Washington Redskins receiver DeSean Jackson will miss a few weeks with a separated shoulder. Arizona Cardinals receiver Michael Floyd will miss six weeks after dislocating three fingers. Dallas Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr needs surgery on a broken hand. New York Jets cornerback Dee Milliner will be out two months with an injured wrist, while Jets rookie receiver Devin Smith will miss the first part of the season after breaking three ribs and suffering a partially punctured lung.

In the first pre-season game on Sunday, Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham suffered a torn ACL and is out for the year. This is precisely the thing teams want to avoid.

Will the Patriots keep a focus on football with Brady's suspension still pending?
The short answer is yes. New England coach Bill Belichick is perhaps the best in the league at keeping his players' minds on the task at hand. Brady's four-game suspension, which was appealed and later upheld, is headed to court. Regardless of how good Belichick is at getting his players to focus on football, not knowing whether their MVP quarterback will be able to start the regular-season opener against Pittsburgh cannot help but be a distraction.

If Brady does miss the first four games of the regular season, it makes the pre-season games important for him to get reps, but is even more vital for back-up Jimmy Garoppolo, who is entering his second NFL season after the Patriots drafted him in the second round last year.

Who is going to emerge at quarterback in Buffalo?
While the Browns and Cowboys are trying to sort out who will be their starting running back, the Bills are a mess at quarterback. Buffalo overdrafted quarterback E.J. Manuel - the player who preceded Winston at the position - in the first round of the 2013 draft. Manuel has not lived up to his draft stock with just 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions thrown in 14 starts over two seasons. Journeyman veteran Matt Cassel will start the pre-season opener on Friday against the Carolina Panthers. The Bills also have Tyrod Taylor in the mix and he has looked good during training camp, but Taylor has seen just spot NFL duty over his four-year career. He has completed 19 of 35 career passes for 199 yards without a touchdown and two interceptions.

Will the 49ers defense be any good?
Through early retirements, free agency, injuries and legal troubles, San Francisco are left having to dive deeper into their depth chart on defense. The 49ers used to win games on the strength of their defense, but now it is a glaring weakness on a franchise that has fallen apart over the last nine months. The latest arrest and subsequent release of outside linebacker Aldon Smith was the most recent departure.

Young players Aaron Lynch, Corey Lemonier, Nick Moody, Shayne Skov and rookies Arik Armstead and Eli Harold can silence a lot of critics by playing well during the pre-season, which the Niners begin on Saturday at Houston.

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