The Patriots’ preseason kicks into a higher gear tonight when they take on the Eagles in their first exhibition contest. How much will Tom Brady play and how will he fare with his new cast of receivers? And will the defense perform? Here are five things to watch for when they kick off tonight (7:30; Ch. 4) at Lincoln Financial Field in Philly:

1. Playing time
The most obvious storyline in any preseason game involves playing time. Will Tom Brady play? While it would make sense for him and his new receivers to get as much work together as possible they just completed a very productive three-day stretch against the Eagles. Why go through the motions of suiting up for one series? Others who could sit include Vince Wilfork Rob Ninkovich Jerod Mayo Devin McCourty Danny Amendola and Aqib Talib.

2. Receiving the message
Ultimately the performance and success of rookie receivers Aaron Dobson Josh Boyce and Kenbrell Thompkins will lie in Brady’s control. At the least the rookie trio will get plenty of reps with backups Ryan Mallett and Tim Tebow. It’d be in the receivers’ best interest to compete at the same level with the backups as they have with Brady at least to measure their focus. The Pats would also love Mallett to have a big preseason to increase his trade value for 2014.

3. The real thing
It’s time to see who can carry practice performances over to the field. Linebackers Jamie Collins and Steve Beauharnais have made some plays and they’ll get plenty of run tonight. The same can be said for defensive end Marcus Benard who has looked like an explosive pass rusher. But who else can step in and shine? Safety Duron Harmon cornerback Logan Ryan and defensive tackle Marcus Forston have been good at practice but inexperienced in games. It would help their confidence if they can bring it on this stage.