Five takeaways from the preseason finale: JC Jackson makes his case for a roster spot

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Here are five quick-hitting thoughts from Thursday's preseason finale between the Patriots and Giants...

MORE McCOURTY AT SAFETY

It's not always the best sign to be playing in the preseason finale if you're a veteran. Jason McCourty, though, is in a bit of an unusual situation. He practiced at safety last week then played some safety -- for the first time in his life -- against the Panthers. If the Patriots wanted a little more safety tape on Devin's brother, they got it Thursday. Jason played three series as a deep safety before coming out for the first half. He re-entered at safety in the third quarter. He made one solo tackle. Jordan Richards also started the game at safety and later replaced McCourty at that spot in the third. Though Richards' role feels safe because of his special teams contributions, perhaps those two are competing for one spot. McCourty made a passionate pregame speech to the team's defensive backs, telling them to enjoy the moment. That's a job that Devin typically takes on during the regular season. 

JACKSON TOO GOOD TO LET GO

JC Jackson has stood out since the spring for his coverage work in practice. He seemed to constantly be in the right place at the right time, and that continued into the summer. He didn't have many eye-popping plays in preseason games, though, until Thursday. He picked off a Kyle Lauletta floater in the first quarter and then batted away another in the second. In the third, he made a juggling pick on another deep ball down the right sideline, right in front of a fired-up Patriots bench. Jackson's also been a significant contributor in the kicking game all preseason, seeing time with multiple core first-team units. If the Patriots had any hope of sneaking him through waivers and onto the practice squad, they probably wouldn't be able to get away with it after Jackson put some strong play on tape against the Giants. Jackson was carted off the field in the third quarter to be "treated for dehydration," the team announced. Cramps. Shouldn't impact his availability. 

OFFENSIVE LINE MIXING AND MATCHING

The Patriots started the game with Cole Croston at left tackle, Brian Schwenke at left guard, Ted Karras at center, Ulrick John at right guard and Matt Tobin at right tackle. It was an interesting combination because we've usually seen Tobin as the backup left tackle (with Isaiah Wynn out) and John as the backup right tackle. John suffered a foot injury that knocked him from the game, which means one of the backup roles on the roster could be reserved for Tobin or Croston. I've had one or the other making the 53-man roster on different projections, but Tobin feels like the leader in the clubhouse even though Croston spent all of last season on the active roster as a developmental player. Both are Iowa products. 

ETLING GETS HIS CHANCE

Danny Etling just doesn't look quite ready. It's been hard for the Patriots to get him work behind Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer, but he saw every rep Thursday. He made a couple of nice throws to new receiver KJ Maye -- including one roll-out 45-yard bomb in the third quarter that set up the first Patriots touchdown of the game -- but there were others that were head-scratchers. He sailed one in the first quarter to a wide open Maye near the left sideline. Giants corner Donte Deayon picked Etling twice, once on a deep ball floated as a prayer down the sideline, and another on an ill-advised and under-thrown crossing route. Plenty to clean up, and it's worth wondering whether or not Etling has shown enough to earn a practice-squad spot.

Etling did flash athleticism at times, particularly late in the fourth quarter when he rolled around the right edge for an 86-yard touchdown. The Giants were fooled, or asleep, or both, but Etling showed good speed as he scampered down the sideline unimpeded. He finished the game with 115 yards rushing on five carries. 

MAKING THEIR CASES

A checkup on a handful of players whose jobs probably aren't considered stone-cold locks, but who have a real shot at the active roster, outside of Richards, McCourty and the linemen we touched on above.

Cyrus Jones: Returned three punts for 10 yards and began the game as the team's nickel corner. He got his hands on one pass and had good coverage on another down the left sideline. 

Keion Crosson: Started the game on the outside, opposite Jackson. He had his right shoulder/collarbone area checked briefly on the sidelines and finished with two tackles.

Marquis Flowers: The special-teams staple from 2017 started the game at linebacker and was second on the team in tackles (six), behind only fellow linebacker and core special-teamer Nicholas Grigsby. Flowers suffered an apparent head injury in the third quarter but returned. Grigsby had a strong game with 13 tackles and a couple of pass breakups.

Keionta Davis/Adam Butler/Derek Rivers: This trio of second-year defensive linemen started the game, and though they didn't play long, they each got into the box score. Butler (who has had an impactful summer as an interior rusher) and Rivers seem to have roster spots. Davis has started each of the last three preseason games and seems to have caught the eye of the defensive coaching staff, but his spot could be up for grabs. 

Vincent Valentine: The third-year tackle missed all of last season and could have the unfortunate luck of trying to make a team with a deep defensive line group. He made four tackles in the finale, but finding him a roster spot could be a challenge. 

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