FOXBOROUGH — For the past couple of seasons, the Lions have had one of the NFL’s better defensive lines.
Ndamukong Suh, one of the most disruptive interior players in the game, and youngster Nick Fairley anchor a line that has added dynamic rookie Ziggy Ansah, the first-round pick who started playing football on a whim at Brigham Young when track didn’t work out.
The group will pose a good test for the Patriots offensive line Thursday night, in what traditionally is the final tuneup for potential starters and the exhibition game in which they play the most snaps.
“It’s a big challenge; that’s the strength of their team, I think, the defensive line,” All-Pro guard Logan Mankins said Monday. “They’ve got good tackles and good ends and they put a lot of pressure on you in the run game and the pass game.”
Asked if he was looking forward to seeing Suh, Mankins paused.
“Yeah, I guess so, as much as you can,” he said, drawing laughs.
The last time these teams met in the preseason was in Week 3 in 2011, and it was not a good night for New England’s starters. The Patriots picked up several costly penalties on offense, including on the first drive, which ended when Tom Brady was strip-sacked on third and 18, forcing a punt.
Brady was sacked a second time when New England was facing second and 25 — another drive that ended with a punt. Brady also was intercepted just before halftime. He played into the third quarter and was 12 for 22 for 145 yards and a touchdown.
“I don’t recall the whole thing but I know we didn’t start the way we wanted,” Mankins said of the 2011 game. “We were up and down. It just wasn’t the way we want to play and I remember the coaching staff not being as thrilled about the game as they should be.”
Mankins agreed the third exhibition game is as important as media and fans portray it.
“I think so,’’ he said. “It’s the game you get to play the most in, so we’ll see how our conditioning is. We’ll play more than we have in the past, and I’m sure they’ll play more than the other teams have played also, so it’s always a good challenge.’’
As is that Lions defensive line.
“They’re big, physical guys inside. Suh’s probably one of the strongest tackles you’re going to find in the league and he’s very athletic for his size also,” Mankins said. “They’re good at what they do, and they’re always a handful for whoever they’re playing.”
McCourty joins in
Free safety Devin McCourty has sat out both exhibition games and worn a red, non-contact jersey for all but one day of training camp as he returns from offseason shoulder surgery. But Monday he was back in action, practicing fully with his teammates with “a little less restrictions,” as he put it.
McCourty said he doesn’t know if he will play against the Lions or in the preseason finale against the Giants. He also declined to say whether he can be ready for Week 1 without any work in the exhibition games.
“It feels good to have that jersey off and feel more a part of the defense,” McCourty said. “We’re not at Week 1 so we don’t even have to make that decision, that’s the good thing. Coach [Bill Belichick] has a master plan and we’ll see how it goes from there.”
But McCourty’s absence has been the gain for several young players, especially safety Duron Harmon, who played more than 130 snaps in the first two exhibition games.
Cornerback Logan Ryan, another rookie, has played almost 150 snaps as he fills in for the injured Alfonzo Dennard and Ras-I Dowling.
“It’s great. I remember my rookie year, all those snaps, joint practices, all that helped me out,” McCourty said. “The biggest thing when you come up here is you don’t know the speed, you don’t know what to really expect until you get out there and you get to play. These snaps that they’re getting will pay dividends come the regular season.”
Amendola is MIA
Danny Amendola was among six players not present at practice Monday afternoon.
Amendola was hit in the back of the head on his sixth and final reception Friday night and left the field, but he did return two plays later. He was the intended target on what ended up being Brady’s final pass attempt of the night, a third-and-7 try.
Other players absent were DL Jermaine Cunningham and rookie CB Brandon Jones, as well as PUP list inhabitants TE Rob Gronkowski, DL Armond Armstead, and WR Mark Harrison.
Players were in full pads for the practice. Grounds crew members spent most of the media-access window soaking down a back corner of one of the fields, so rookies likely had their annual mud bath/slip-n-slide before full-team work began.
The Patriots released three players: LB A.J. Edds, OL R.J. Mattes, and DL Scott Vallone.
Mattes, who suffered an ankle injury Friday against Tampa Bay, was waived/injured, meaning if he is not claimed he will revert to injured reserve for the season.
The moves leaves 84 players on the roster, six below the 90-man limit. But with the first round of roster cuts coming next Tuesday (teams have to get down to 75 players), Belichick indicated it’s unlikely those open spots will be filled.
“If we find a player we want to fill them with, we could [but] we don’t have like six guys flying in here tonight to be out there tomorrow,” Belichick said. “But if something comes up that we feel there’s a player we want to take a look at or we feel like can help us, we can just put them on the roster without having to do anything [in terms of a counter-move to make space]. If not, then we’re prepared to go with what we’ve got.’’