Where do the Patriots’ positional battles stand halfway through the preseason?
James White grabbed a quick screen pass from Tom Brady, and as he turned upfield, there wasn’t an Eagles jersey in sight.
White followed a convoy of big bodies in blue into the end zone to cap a quick-strike, four-play, 69-yard drive that took all of 59 seconds and gave the Patriots a 27-7 lead in their eventual 37-20 preseason win Thursday night.
White had to run only 20 yards on the play, but truth be told, he could have run past the lighthouse and all the way to the Red Wing diner halfway up Route 1 without being touched. The blocking was that good.
New England’s interior three of center David Andrews and guards Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason won their initial battles before taking off downfield to escort White to the end zone. Tight end Jacob Hollister threw a nifty block, too.
“Any play that goes for a touchdown means 11 guys obviously did something right,’’ Andrews said. “I mean, there’s probably definitely things we can fix, but any touchdown play is a good play.’’
That touchdown put a cherry on Brady’s solid start — 19 of 26 for 172 yards and 2 touchdowns — and served as reminder that no matter the cast around him, the league’s reigning MVP is going to move the ball.
“Well, Tom looked great,’’ said Eagles defensive end Chris Long, Brady’s former teammate, as he made his way to the team bus in the wee hours Friday.
The exhibition season is halfway over, and Brady has answered any questions about whether he’s ready to go for his 19th season at age 41.
Here’s what we know about the other positional groupings as the Patriots get ready to take their show on the road the next two weeks with games at Carolina and in the Meadowlands.
■ Running back
This was a position of strength when camp opened up, but injuries to Sony Michel and Rex Burkhead (both are nursing knee woes) have cut down on the depth. Their roster spots are safe.
White (92 yards from scrimmage Thursday) is one of Brady’s most trusted weapons. He has excellent hands and is superb in space.
Jeremy Hill was limited in practice last week but looked fine Thursday and has the edge over Mike Gillislee for the team’s big back role.
Special teams ace Brandon Bolden still runs with purpose, and his versatility and knowledge of this offense have proven invaluable over the years.
■ Wide receivers
This is one of the biggest mystery areas. There are a ton of candidates, but injuries and inexperience with the offense have prevented anyone from gaining separation from the pack.
Julian Edelman (he’ll miss the first four weeks with a suspension), Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, and Cordarrelle Patterson are locks.
Eric Decker has an excellent NFL track record, and his performance over the next two weeks bears watching. If he gets comfortable with Brady, he’ll make things uncomfortable for defenses.
Kenny Britt (6 feet 3 inches, 230 pounds) is a huge question mark. He’s had plenty of success at this level but a lingering hamstring issue has kept him from being a full participant in camp. If he’s going to make a push, it needs to start now.
Riley McCarron, Devin Lucien, and Braxton Berrios are fighting for playing time and possibly one spot.
■ Tight end
Rob Gronkowski likely won’t get any exhibition snaps, and that’s just fine. Anyone and everyone knows what he can do. He’s right in the center of Brady’s circle of trust.
Dwayne Allen is a tenacious blocker, and Hollister has excellent athleticism and his blocking has improved. These are the three guys who’ll break camp with the big boys.
■ Offensive line
A season-ending Achilles’ tendon injury to top pick Isaiah Wynn and Marcus Cannon’s mystery ailment have clouded the picture here and really hurt what was solid tackle depth when camp opened.
If Cannon can’t go, LaAdrian Waddle will get the call at right tackle. Matt Tobin, Ulrick John, and Cole Croston will continue to battle for the depth spots. This competition bears watching over the final two preseason games.
At left tackle, Trent Brown has been the big surprise of camp. And by big, we mean gargantuan. The 6-8, 380-pounder (he wears it well) is a model of consistency as he protects the blind side.
The interior is solid, with Andrews, Thuney and Mason working like three peas in a destructive pod. There’s good competition for the backup spots among Ted Karras and Luke Bowanko (both can play center and guard) and Brian Schwenke.
■ Defensive line
The dominating performance against the Eagles was a possible preview of what this front can do — and this was with Trey Flowers, New England’s best all-around lineman, sitting out.
The pass rush is improved, with Adrian Clayborn, Deatrich Wise, and Derek Rivers providing consistent pressure off the edge. Lawrence Guy has excellent strength and versatility, and Keionta Davis really flashed and can play inside and out.
Danny Shelton has been a force all summer alongside Malcom Brown. Don’t sleep on last year’s sleeper, Adam Butler. He looks quicker and has improved his technique; he’s always around the ball.
Ja’Whaun Bentley continued his ascent up the depth chart with another standout performance against the Eagles. The rookie has looked comfortable defending the run and in coverage, and his communication skills are top-notch.
Dont’a Hightower (he had Thursday night off) and Kyle Van Noy (he’s a versatile leader) are locks. Elandon Roberts (he’s a downhill thumper) and Christian Sam (rookie has a big upside) help round out the rotation.
Harvey Langi’s injury is a tough blow for a guy who was putting together a solid summer.
The back end of the defense is in good shape, with one of the best safety trios in the league in Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon. Duke Dawson has been dinged, but he has flashed in the nickel role.
Jordan Richards and Damarius Travis had some rough moments against the Eagles. Eddie Pleasant could grab a spot as an experienced depth player and special teams standout.
The competition for the depth cornerback spots (Stephon Gilmore and Eric Rowe are your starters) has been hot and heavy throughout camp and will be the most watched over the last two weeks.
Jason McCourty got some run with the starters in camp and against the Eagles. He’s been solid most of the summer but had some missteps Thursday and acknowledged after the game he must do better.
Keion Crossen was victimized several times against the Eagles but the staff stuck with him and he finished with eight tackles. The rookie flashed in the spring and has dealt with a sore back this summer.
J.C. Jackson, A.J. Moore, and Jomal Wiltz were underwhelming against the Eagles. Ryan Lewis, who has had a real solid camp, did not play as he nurses an injury.
Jonathan Jones is working his way back from a playoff injury, and he’ll provide great depth and special teams play. Cyrus Jones is ramping up his activity level and he’ll need to continue to do so over the next three weeks to reserve his spot.