For some Patriots, there’s a big reason for the preseason

Staff photo by TOM KING Patriots rookie quarterback Danny Etling is all smiles late Thursday night after getting his first NFL presason game action.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – For some, preseason football is a mere blip on the radar screen, not to be taken very seriously.

For others, it’s everything. They want to be a beacon, have the spotlight, and use every moment on the field to win a job.

Welcome to a New England Patriots locker room following a 26-17 comeback win over the Washington Redskins Thursday night, a game that was truly a tale of two halves.

Which one counted? Well, neither, but the fact is the players who were part of that Patriots comeback in the second half probably won’t be around when it counts.

That’s the cruel twist of the preseason. The odds aren’t in their favor. But sometimes, they beat those odds.

“For me, I’ve got to do everything I can on special teams, offense, and whatever else the team needs me to do,” Patriots running back Jeremy Hill said. “Help this team win games. Whatever it is, I’m going to try to do it at a high level and help this team for sure.

“Try to continue and just build and build, and hopefully I can get a prominent role on offense. If not, that’s the case, whatever the coaches have for me. I just want to make the team and continue to try to help this team win.”

Hill signed a $1.5 million contract with the Patriots in March after four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, his best year in his rookie season (2014) when he rushed for 1,124 yards. He’s taken a new approach, because he knows all that experience won’t guarantee him a thing with this team.

“I feel lighter on my feet, I can work in and out of cuts and make people miss,” Hill said. “I’m just out there doing my job, man. Whatever the coaches ask me to do, I’m going to execute at a high level. I just play, have fun. … This is year five for me, so I kind of know what to expect.”

Hill had fun on Thursday night, for certain, rushing for a team-high 51 yards on 11 carries. He grinned when asked about another player, rookie Ralph Webb.

“Ralph came in there with great energy, ran extremely hard, and did his job,” Hill said. “We’e going to need Ralph to continue to do that for us. He’s going to be a big part of our team for sure. All Ralph has to do is keep doing his job and good things will happen for him.”

That’s the faith these players – veterans like Hill, rookies like Webb, have to have.

“I’m just making the most of whatever opportunities I get,” Webb, who played his college ball at Vanderbilt, said. “Just trying to do everything the coaches coach me up to do and do it to the best of my ability.”

Webb should end up somewhere. He ran for 4,178 yards in his career at Vanderbilt, and showed some of that ability (46 yards, two TDs, two two-point conversions) Thursday.

“That’s what he was like at Vanderbilt,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He ran hard. He was tough. … It was good to see him in game action be able to break some tackles, get downhill, get some tough yards. He’s done that plenty before.”

“Ralph was exciting,” said Patriots backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, who played most of the game. “I mean, the guy runs for that many yards in the SEC, he’s got to be a good player. … It’s always good to see a young guy take advantage of his opportunity when he gets that chance to play.”

A chance. That’s what Thursday night was for a huge number of players who took the field. Another player who probably won’t make the roster, former LSU quarterback and seventh round pick Danny Etling, got his chance, and really didn’t do much – except fumble. But he still had a wide grin in the locker room. He played in an NFL game.

“It was a pretty surreal feeling,” he said, “because you work your whole life for this one moment; to run out there and throw your first pass. It’s an accumulation of a lot of hard work.”

We didn’t learn much if anything about the 2018 New England Patriots, but that’s not really what a preseason opener such as Thursday’s game is supposed to be for, anyway. It’s for guys like Hill, Webb, Etling and others to prove their worth.

“The more plays you play, the better it is,” Hill said.

Because it’s the difference between an NFL job, and a job somewhere out of football.

“It’s a dream come true,” Webb said. “I’ve been working my whole life for this, to come out here and get a chance to compete. I’m just happy and I’m blessed to be able to be here and say that I did it.”

And hopefully later say that he made it.

Who knows, if they don’t stick with the Patriots, guys like Webb could be on another NFL team’s radar. That often is what the preseason is all about.