FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When you’re trying to make an NFL roster, every day, every practice, is important. But certain occasions are more important than others.

For anyone hoping to catch on with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, one of those occasions is Thursday night. That’s when the Patriots open their four-game preseason schedule against the Jacksonville Jaguars at 7:30 p.m. at Gillette Stadium.

“It’s live football,” said Trevor Bates, the former Westbrook High and University of Maine standout. “So anytime you can go out there and perform and hit and be physical and display your talents, it’s obviously higher stakes. It’s what we train for, that’s what we go through the practices for. I’m excited.”

Even the veterans understand the importance of preseason games.

“Our coaches tell us, the games are different,” said safety Devin McCourty. “They’re evaluated a little harder than practices because that’s what they want to see … No matter – preseason, regular season – it’s a game. It’s a chance to go out there and play well and start to build your team.”

Bates, 23, was back at practice Wednesday after missing Tuesday with an ankle issue, and said he’s ready to play against Jacksonville. He’s one of the nine linebackers on the Patriots’ roster. A seventh-round draft pick by the Indianapolis Colts in 2016, Bates was released by the Colts on Oct. 13. He was signed to the Patriots’ practice squad on Nov. 7 and finished the season there, earning a Super Bowl ring.

Now he’s trying to make the 53-man roster and is again showing his versatility, playing multiple positions in training camp.

“Wherever they want me to play,” said the 6-foot-2, 247-pound Bates. “Off the ball, on the ball, special teams. Wherever they want me, I’m there.”

Bates figures to get a lot of playing time Thursday night. The starters are likely to play very little, if at all. That means he’ll have plenty of opportunities to impress. “I just have to do my job, play physical and play violent,” said Bates, who wears No. 44.

He’ll probably be sharing the turf with another Maine product: defensive lineman Derek Rivers, New England’s third-round draft pick last spring from Youngstown State. Rivers, 23, was born in Augusta, though his family moved to North Carolina when he was 2 years old.

He still has relatives living in Nobleboro. He was unable to visit them this summer – as he and his family have done each year – because of, well, work.

“I wish, I wanted to,” he said, calling Maine his second home. “Can’t wait to get back up there and fish again.”

Rivers worked out with the first defensive unit in Wednesday’s practice but realizes that means nothing right now.

“I’m just excited to get out there and play a game,” he said. “It feels like my freshman year in college again.”

He knows what he has to do to impress the coaches.

“Do my job,” he said. “Go out there with a clear mind and just play my role.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

[email protected]

Twitter: MikeLowePPH

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